This past Friday, Marc Levin, Center Director for the Center of Effective Justice and Right on Crime, spoke on a panel at FreedomFest in Las Vegas that focused on the perils offenders encounter when attempting to reenter society after facing incarceration.
Levin focused his discussion on the successes Texas has had by strengthening their parole supervision program in 2007. Levin noted that since an investment in Texas was made to see parolees succeed, such as adding instant drug testing, more substance abuse treatment, job placement resources, etc., there have been more than 1,300 fewer parolees each year alleged to have committed new offenses and 825 fewer for rule violations. According to Levin, this has saved the tax payers over $30.1 million.
Levin stressed the importance of proper job and housing for ex-offenders for successful reentry and provided several proposals on how to assist individuals in getting good jobs and a good home. Levin recommends, with data to back it up, that greater vocational training in prisons and fewer restrictions on occupational licensing will lead to more offender job opportunities. Further, Levin suggests legislation that provides protection to employers and housing managers for hiring or housing ex-employers as well as the sealing of criminal records for low-level offenders who have proven amenable to a law-abiding path.
On the panel with Levin was Bert Smith, CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, a non-profit based in Houston, Texas that places executives, entrepreneurs, and MBA students with convicted felons to provide the training and information for those offenders to start their own businesses and/or enter the job market once they leave prison. The program has not only had remarkable effects on recidivism rates of the participants, but has had life-changing benefits to their lives, their families, and their neighborhoods.
A great example of the program’s success was one of the other panelists, Manuel Rodriguez, who was a participant in the program and is now a transition coordinator for it. Rodriguez discussed the problems that faces inmates on reentry and why this leads to so many to re-offend.
The final panelist was Jo Ann Skousen, the founding director of the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival and a co-founder of FreedomFest. Skousen teaches literature and writing to inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York. Skousen discussed her successes with the inmates in the college program at that institution, which boasts a remarkable 1.4% recidivism rate.
FreedomFest is a yearly event that brings together visionaries from around the world to celebrate “great books, great ideas, and great thinkers in an open-minded society.” For more information on FreedomFest, visit FreedomFest.com.