Dismantling Mass Incarceration by reducing recidivism, reoffending and the revolving door

16 Mar

By Mike McGee

It’s a fallacy to look only at the prisons and the police to find solutions to reduce mass incarceration in America. Reoffending and going back to prison generates a lot of the prison population. There are many ways to reduce the prison population by reducing reoffending. It’s easy to blame prisons and the police for our problems. Most of those involved in policing and corrections are doing exactly what they are hired to do. We need to support our police and corrections officers as we look to reduce the incarceration rate in America.

In May of last year, I wrote a blog at https://mcgeepost.com/2016/05/26/the-fallacy-of-dismantling-mass-incarceration-wishful-thinking-refuted-by-ordinary-mathematics-and-science/ . There I argued that most of the people coming into prison belong there, and that the police and the justice system are generally doing a good job. Here, I am looking at how we can reduce the number of people coming back into the system as repeat offenders, and by doing so reduce prison populations.

I can assure you that I am not soft on crime, nor am I interested in coddling criminals. As a retired lawyer I have a few insights into the criminal justice system. I am far from being an expert on the subject, so I’ll just summarize my ideas.

We need to look at different and mostly totally ignored challenges. What follows is a brief summary of several options which may be developed for those interested in reducing prison populations. None of these options is currently being practiced that I’m aware of.

Walking out the prison door

Imagine an inmate walking out the prison gate. He or she (hereafter “he”) is wearing his one set of civilian clothes, has anywhere from fifty to two hundred dollars in his pocket, and has a bus ticket back to the place he was originally arrested (so he can visit his parole officer). No job, no place to live, no car and probably no driver’s license, no health insurance, and no friends other than those (mostly felons) he had before his incarceration.

A Justice Department report at  http://static.nicic.gov/Library/021386.pdf is attached here: Releasing Inmates from Prison This report shows just what a thin soup the average person released from prison has. The report is old, yet my research shows that nothing much has changed. This report is a chart of how we’ve always done things and still do things. The released inmate can have as little as one set of civilian clothes and $50-200 cash, and is far from home. His reputation is that he’s an ex-con, to be shunned by decent people.

I’m not here being critical of those involved in the current release, probation and parole practices. The people who manage these things are doing a very good job, carrying out the rules they’ve been given. We need to take a good hard look at changing policies and procedures on how prisoners are released.

Fresh out of prison, few job prospects. Even if he’s serious, the job search for an ex-con may take weeks or months, yet he’s not sure how he’s going to eat tomorrow. Years of intense parole supervision ahead: He’s not allowed to stay out of prison unless he agrees to be treated like a junior high school student. He’s part of a well-defined and life-long underclass which is far less free than any other American. The American Dream is simply not there for him.

Maintenance after release

Imprisonment costs a nationwide average of $33,000 per inmate. Release longer term inmates one year earlier and give them a monthly check of $2,500 for their first year out. Release shorter term inmates on time with a $1,500 a month check for a year. The first payment should be made on the day of the inmate’s release. Give these men (and women) solid ground to walk on, and many will re-join the community of free men.

The payment should be universal (except to those with their own resources), to avoid adding another level of “judging the fitness of individuals.” Those recipients who are jailed for a new offense or returned to prison for any reason should have their stipends cut off, of course.

Limit all parole and probation to six months, if at all. A man is not entirely free as long as he is on parole or probation, and about 4,500,000 Americans are in these systems. Long terms of supervision stifle him and corrode the American value of self-determination. This is not a criticism of the men and women who are probation and parole officers. They are good people who are doing the job they are hired for. Some may become unemployed, yet because they are good people they will likely find other work quickly (such as teaching school in tough neighborhoods, for example. They will know how to control their charges).

Alter criminal recordkeeping methods

The federal government, along with state, county and city governments, maintain in perpetuity billions of negative records on citizens. The computer and Internet age in the last thirty years has created this capacity. American freedom is rapidly becoming almost as unfree as it would be with a dictator who might abrogate the Constitution. Those sent to prison are particularly frozen out of American freedom by the nationwide instant availability of criminal records to members of the public.

These instantly available public records show not only convictions, but arrests which did not result in a conviction. The concept of innocent until proven guilty still applies in a courtroom; yet not in the court of public opinion. All these permanent publicly available records create a certainty of guilt among the public even when a listed charge was not pursued, and this certainty follows the individual wherever he goes, for the rest of his life. Even the name “criminal record” implies guilt of a charge that may have been dismissed.

A better way to handle these records would be to make all criminal records available only to law enforcement officers and to others with a need to know. Or to make public only conviction records and not arrest records. See Gregory v. Litton Systems, 472 F.2d 631 (1972).

For those who need to know, for example a day care center or a school, an account could be set up with law enforcement. With this account, they feed in the names of applicants for jobs and get back reports on any who are convicted child molesters or sex offenders. Banks could get reports on any convicted of financial crimes.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 in England enables some criminal convictions to be ignored after a rehabilitation period. Its purpose is that people do not have a lifelong blot on their records. This practice in England and New Zealand and other countries is often referred to as a “Clean Slate Regime.”

Most states have a system where a person can expunge a limited number of criminal charges from their records. This type of system should be expanded, and also allow criminal convictions to be expunged after a period of time.

Bottom line, as long as these billions of negative records are retained and made public by government at all levels, there can never be access to the full array of American freedoms by those released from prison.

Develop a sense of honor for those who’ve served

“He’s served his time. Here in America we give people a second chance.”


There are some who say that once an individual has done his time, his honor should be restored. He’s paid for his crime, let’s give him a chance to restore his dignity. Yet now in America there seems to be little or no appreciation of “having paid for a crime.”

Most former inmates know they really have no rights at all, that America is not an accepting place for them and will turn against them again and again, lifelong. They really don’t live in freedom, and the protections of the Constitution, particularly the Eighth Amendment, don’t apply to them. There are about six million such souls at a minimum in America.

A soldier is treated with honor and respect when he is discharged. I’m not suggesting the same level of honor to a released inmate, yet the culture needs to become aware that these released inmates have actually paid their debt to society and are entitled to a second chance – if they are willing to live into that second chance.

Many prisoners will benefit from receiving a PARDON rather than just a simple release, when they’ve done the time the state demands of them. Except for the hardened criminals and killers, most inmates are rather fluid about whether they rejoin the community or not.

A Supreme Court case that may be relevant

In Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 78 S. Ct. 590, 2 L. Ed. 2d 630 (1958), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the use of denationalization (the deprivation of citizenship) as a punishment is barred by the Eighth Amendment. The Court reasoned that when someone is denationalized, “[t]here may be involved no physical mistreatment, no primitive torture. There is instead the total destruction of the individual’s status in organized society. It is a form of punishment more primitive than torture, for it destroys for the individual the political existence that was centuries in the development…. This punishment is offensive to cardinal principles for which the Constitution stands. It subjects the individual to a fate of ever-increasing fear and distress. He knows not what discriminations may be established against him, what proscriptions may be directed against him…. The threat makes the punishment obnoxious.” (emphasis added) The Court also stated that the Eighth Amendment must “draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” (Emphasis added)

From 1958 when this decision was written, until now, computerized record-keeping and other new government technologies have increased a billion-fold and assure that most former inmates, while not actually denationalized, have actually and in fact lost most of the benefits of being an American citizen. Only by changing the way we look at and treat “ex-cons” can we re-nationalize these dispossessed citizens.

Those who want to dismantle mass incarceration must give an enormous amount of attention to what happens to people after they are released from prison. Statistics show that now more than fifty per cent of those released will be back in prison before long. Some statistics give even higher percentages. Changes can reduce the number of re-offenders and empty some prison cells.

Of course there are many hardened career criminals who readily return to their life of crime after release, and then end up back in prison. This story is not about them. It’s about those who are capable of having a dream and of desiring to live the American Dream, and mostly don’t know how to do so or even what to do when they are released. The dispossessed.

From www.mcgeepost.com .Copyright © 2017 Michael H. McGee. All rights reserved. Please feel free to share or re-post all or part non-commercially or as news, hopefully with attribution.


Lagniappe: These random footnotes are added as an afterthought, and are not considered to be a part of the blog entry.


The new king of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn, recently PARDONED tens of thousands of prisoners, a first act of “mercy” as monarch as he reaches out to his subjects following the death of his beloved father. As many as 30,000 inmates will be pardoned and released, with another 70,000 expected to have their sentences reduced. Thailand’s Department for Corrections said there were about 321,347 people being held in Thai prisons prior to the pardon. See https://guardian.ng/news/new-thai-king-pardons-prisoners-in-first-show-of-mercy/

This act demonstrates the degree of fluidity between inmates and productive citizens, and also shows that a PARDON is a valid means of releasing a prisoner, even at or near the end of his sentence.

New Zealand

New Zealand has made some small steps in the directions I described in the blog. It’s easier for them, since they have only about 10,000 inmates nationwide. The report on the new policies may be found at http://www.salvationarmy.org.nz/research-media/social-policy-and-parliamentary-unit/reports/beyond-prison-gate

The NZ Department of Corrections makes it standard practice that: Every prisoner leaving prison has or is supported to apply for a form of ID accepted by most major banks and agencies; Every prisoner leaving prison has been able to set up their benefit (if required) prior to their release; Navigation services are extended and are available to all prisoners on their release; The Department of Corrections has ensured all ex-prisoners are provided with six months of accommodation or the means for stable accommodation; Consider the operation of the current clean slate regime http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/10325407/115-000-Kiwis-get-slate-wiped-clean and consider a tiered model similar to the UK Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974; Create post-prison public/private industry schemes that will employ prisoners for six months before release and 12 months post-release if they have no other employment, dependent on not reoffending.

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