Break The Cycle
We have a problem.
While crime rates have dropped substantially in recent years the incarceration rate has not followed suit. For example, in 2012 the crime rate in IL dropped 14%, but the incarceration rate increased by 8%. This tells us that simply driving down crime rates by increasing enforcement is not enough to address the social and financial problems posed by the growing prison population. As the annual costs of Illinois’ Department of Corrections creeps closer to the $2 billion mark, new solutions are needed.
In February of 2015, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an executive order creating a Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, in order to address the problem of overcrowding in Illinois prisons. By his admission, our prisons operate at over 150% capacity. Even putting aside humanitarian motivations, the conclusion is clear: Illinois simply cannot afford to continue incarceration at the current rate; indeed, it hasn’t been able to afford it in years.
In July 2014 the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council (SPAC), identified Employment Training & Job Assistance in the Community as having the best benefit-to-cost ratio of any effort to reduce the rate of recidivism. Despite the solution being known, it has not been widely implemented. Most communities, even those heavily affected by the ramifications of growing, overcrowded prisons, have either no programs in place to help those released rejoin the workforce, or programs to identify mental health needs, rehabilitation needs, or any of the other multitude of factors that can put someone at greater risk of being arrested again.
Fresh Start Foundation intends to address these social and financial issues by making use of a resource generally lost in the bureaucratic shuffle: the inmates themselves. By compiling profiles on volunteers nearing release, and in partnership with businesses and institutions across the state, we can find jobs and training opportunities for those reentering the workforce, and in so doing ensure that they have all the tools they need to make the most of their lives, instead of letting themselves fall into the cycle of arrests and re-incarceration that currently lands around 47 percent of them back in prison within 3 years of release.
Fresh Start’s process is comprehensive and includes psychological profiles, aptitude tests for different careers, and pre-placement with partner companies so that they don’t have the issue of trying to find a way to survive immediately upon their release. While those first weeks are crucial to giving them the tools they need, Fresh Start will continue to monitor their progress in the months to follow, through checkups with employers and visits to the volunteers. Keeping track of any issues and addressing them promptly is the missing step in most programs, and what we expect will make the crucial difference and let them become a successful, contributing member of society.
Working together, we can break the ongoing cycle that destroys lives, ruins dreams, and slowly drains resources from programs that could make life better for the entire state.