The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Contra Costa County organized the recidivism symposium in Richmond on July 20, 2017. I was honored along with other panelists to be part of the panel discussion to find common causes why people end up back in prison after they are released. The penal included along with Dr. Harmesh Kumar, a licensed psychologist, Sonja Tonnesen, Deputy Director at Root & Rebound, John Gioia, District Supervisor , Nicholas Alexander, Reentry Success Center, Pamela Singh, Executive Director at Wellness City Challenge,and Rhody McCoy, Director Economic Development, CCC.
The major goal of the prison system in the United States is to rehabilitate its prisoners in the hopes that they will not continue to live a life of crime. Unfortunately, there are some individuals who will return to their former criminal life. This phenomenon is known as recidivism, which is the recurrence of criminal activity after an individual serves prison time for a prior crime. It can be a measurement of a person’s return to crime, or of repeated arrest or conviction.
The panelists explored the various barriers for prisoners which cause recidivism. One of the major reasons is the racial bias. Afro-American and Latino communities are disproportionally represented in the prison population. According to Ms. Tonnesen, who is an attorney and Deputy Director of Root and Rebound, there are more than 48,000 legal barriers for former prisoners to get a job at local, state and federal level in United States.
Mr. John Gioia, District County Supervisor, reported that Contra Costa County has allocated 5 million of 20 million dollars for job training, housing and mental health services for those who are getting out of the prison. However, Rhody McCoy, Director Economic Development, Contra Costa County mentioned that county is not doing enough especially for people of color in our county. The racially biased policies are not helping those in need. Dr. Kumar also mentioned that county is spending only 25% of the financial resources allocated by the state for people who are getting out of the prisons and remaining 75% is spent to build new jail in the county and for other administrative costs.
Dr. Kumar also reported that there are so many reasons why individuals return to a life of crime following imprisonment. Some important reasons for recidivism are; lack of socialization, lack of job training, inability to obtain employment, inability to reintegrate into society after returning from prison, antisocial attitudes (hurt people, hurt people), restlessness, association with other criminals, impulsiveness, lack of education or access thereof, lack of support, substance abuse, neglect or abuse by parents or guardians.
Some of policy makers are very pessimistic that recidivism will never disappear and there is no certain cure. They say that felons tend to be losers, and only some of them can be straightened out. So, recidivism is not going to hit zero according to them. However, there is ample evidence that with more investment in long-term social-emotional support systems, economic opportunities, affordable housing and mental health services, there can be a significant reduction in the recidivism. We need to educate the community and the policy makers about investing in the well-being of those coming out of prisons after serving their time and that approach will benefit everyone and will save money to tax payers.
There is strong empirical evidence that people who are reintegrated into the community do better than those who are provided services in the prisons or in locked institutions. Dr. Kumar and all other panelists thanked Mr. Evodio Walle, President of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Contra Costa County for inviting to this great panel discussion.