In February, I drove a van full of folks interested in criminal justice reform to the Pike County Correctional Facility in northeastern Pennsylvania. The purpose of our trip was to tour a correctional facility similar in size to our own Centre County Correctional Facility. We wanted to meet with its leadership to discuss inmate services/training and what CentrePeace and the community at large could and should be doing in support of our local jail and its staff. Accompanying me on this fact-finding mission were several Centre-Peace board members, community advocates and Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe, vice chairman of the Centre County prison board.
Several months earlier, a colleague had shared that the Pike County Correctional Facility claimed to have a recidivism rate of 10 percent. In other words, only one inmate in 10 at their jail reoffended within three years of his/her release.
Why is this number significant? The national rate of recidivism (our local jail included) is in the vicinity of 50 percent, according to The Pew Center for the States, and the daily cost to house each inmate is approaching $80. With more than 2.3 million men, women and children incarcerated today in the United States, you can see why corrections is such an enormous burden on American taxpayers. So, the question was, Given the current economic climate, how can we (in the community) affect positive change in our local jail?
What we discovered during our visit was that the lions share of training and support services provided to inmates there was designed, directed and implemented by volunteers. Thats right, volunteers.
Correctional facilities will never be able to afford to hire the number of qualified individuals necessary to affect comprehensive, positive change in the lives of those who are incarcerated. But if we as a caring community can begin to understand the importance of reaching out to these folks, providing drug and/or alcohol treatment and the life/ interpersonal skills necessary for them to become contributing, productive members of communities, then maybe we can begin to slow down the revolving doors of our jails and prisons.
One thing is certain. Change will not happen overnight. Our county commissioners are in the process of hiring a new warden. This new warden must believe in and be committed to restoration and rehabilitation. And it cant end there.
The greater community must be willing to step up to the plate and offer assistance. That means the faith community, the medical community, the counseling community, etc., must collectively come together to build a safety net for those inmates desiring real and permanent change in their lives.
Some may claim that they cannot afford to donate their time or expertise. I would argue that we cant afford not to try affecting positive change in the lives of those who are incarcerated. In the end, if we are not willing to be a part of the solution, we will continue by default, unfortunately, to be a part of the problem.
Thomas Brewster is executive director of CentrePeace Inc. If you are interested in getting involved or have questions, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.