Leaving prison……MORE

……WHERE TO GO?  WHAT TO DO?

“Joe” was released on parole and permitted to bypass a half-way house and go home.  He was required to meet with his parole officer regularly but otherwise was free to move on with his life.  One night about three months after his release, two police officers showed up at his front door, placed him under arrest and returned him to prison.

When asked how he was managing in the community during a meeting with his parole officer earlier in the day, Joe felt confident enough to say that he was adjusting well and had only slipped a little recently by doing “a couple of lines.”  That no-no was reported and brought the police to his door.  Why, he was asked by fellow inmates when he showed up back on the range, would he admit to that.  Well, he told them, he was simply trying to be honest.

Yes, what Joe did was prohibited under the terms of his release, and policy warranted a return to custody for two/three months.  All the same, parole officers and half-way house staffers are too ready to return an ex-offender to prison, disregarding offsetting positives.  It’s as if there is a template that’s skewed in favour of punishment over rehabilitation.  That former inmate or others like him may have found a job, keeping in mind that help from CSC with finding employment is hardly more than the mandate to “go out and get a job.”  He may be helping family, making new friends, and confronting the challenges of life in the real world again.  None of that matters.

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“Jack” was sentenced to 30 years in prison in the United States, later transferred to Canada to serve his remaining time, and he did not apply or accept parole or early release because he didn’t want any compulsory attachments to CSC or the Parole Board.  He spent a full 30 years inside working as a paralegal, participating in over 300 cases against the prison industry in both the U.S. and Canada, and building links to law firms in the community.

When released, he continued with work in the law, eventually married, and is buying a home.  Last November he wrote, “I’m paying taxes and being good.  I’ve been out six years now and it’s really easy once you get into a routine and are around people who don’t drag you into the gutter.”

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Joe and Jack had more support and resources than many of the men and women released into the community.  Some don’t have a stable home, or the family and friends in their lives aren’t tuned to ward off future criminality.  Groups committed to propping up an ex-offender’s recovery often don’t have the means to fully engage with the lives of the people they’re trying to help.  And there’s the dispiriting prospect of working with some ex-cons who are released back into the community in worse shape then when they were first sentenced. 

To clarify, there are some men and women who won’t or can’t make a transition from a criminal lifestyle.  The unfortunate are the people whose mental/emotional health challenges combined with controlling addictions that go untreated drives them to reoffend and are too often resigned to living a life they do not want.

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“Affordable housing for former prisoners helps us all”, headed a contribution by Murray Fallis to the Toronto Star back on Sunday, October 25 of last year.  He was an articling fellow with the John Howard Society of Canada at the time and was researching the impact of recidivism on the community.

It costs taxpayers about $116,000 per year to maintain a prisoner in federal custody, more for maximum security inmates, less for minimum security offenders.  As Mr. Fallis wrote, “the fundamental goal of our correctional system is to ensure these individuals do not reoffend.”  We   agree that’s the policy but argue the practice does not usually meet the standard.  Nonetheless, Mr. Fallis makes a strong case on affordable housing for ex-cons.

Canada says the recidivism rate is 25%, although the figure is likely higher.  For one, when an ex-offender has been out of the system for five years or more, and then breaks the law, that is not included in recidivist statistics.  So, let’s say as things are now one in four will reoffend.  According to Mr. Fallis, “when an individual has adequate housing upon release, one study indicates that reincarceration drops by approximately 19 percentage points.”  That would amount to $459 million in savings by CSC in the first two years if a housing program existed.

Prisoners aren’t included in affordable housing initiatives because society feels criminals deserve their punishment, and maybe they do.  But just how much can we do with $459 million?  Including former prisoners in Canada’s National Housing Strategy makes sense, and those dollars would go a long way to build housing for the tens of thousands on waiting lists.  Murray Fallis concludes, “It’s not rocket science or radicalism: it’s an evidence-based solution to an expensive, long-term problem.”

Affordable housing for prisoners is a pipe dream.  After all, it would interfere with the status-quo, wouldn’t it.

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