One’s ability to reintegrate into society from jail or prison is important. Successful reentry does not just impact those who are returning home from prison or jail, but it directly influences their immediate family members and society. Unfortunately, there has been slow progress in the change of criminal justice reform – so many advocates and activists are attempting to increase buy-in from not only those of political influence, but the community.
The current state of our criminal justice system places an economic burden on society as a whole, but especially many communities of color. In addition to acknowledging our current criminal justice system as a moral issue, we must take time to review the economic impact, which may potentially lead to more buy-in by others of influence. People’s ability to transition home from incarceration not only directly connects to the recidivism rate, but also where and how many of our tax dollars are allocated. One does not have to be personally impacted by incarceration nor feel passionately compelled in order to assist with advocating for criminal justice reform, but it is important to begin acknowledging the financial hardship placed on communities and greater society due to the many millions of people involved with the criminal justice system.
In order to highlight this issue, we must review some of the barriers people face as they are returning home, including a lack of formal education, technical job skills, and employment. There are many organizations with programs that prepare their students well for entering the workforce, but the issue becomes how does one support themselves after being recently released for 4, 6, or even 8 weeks to complete a job-readiness program.
I believe Cleveland does a good job of hiring people with convictions in their background due to my personal experience with clients with felonies being able to find employment. The barrier of employment for Cleveland is not that there are no jobs, but accepting a job with a pay rate of $12 per hour or below for someone who has restitution to pay, child support, and/or provides for other family members to pay is unrealistic.
Let’s consider the current numbers, there are an estimated 2.3 million people incarcerated at the county, state, and federal levels across the US as reported by Prison Policy Initiative. More specifically, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (ODRC) 2019 report there are 48,790 incarcerated persons in Ohio at the state level alone. Policy Matters Ohio, which conducts research and produces data for the community, estimates it takes $67.84 per day to house inmates in Ohio, leading to about $24,761.60. ($67.84 per day x 365 days)
So, I will leave it to you to calculate the estimated numbers (48,790 people incarcerated x $24,761.60 estimated yearly cost) per year to house people incarcerated at the state level in Ohio. Also, consider that number is only a portion of the money influencing the number of taxpayers’ dollars funding prisons and jails.
Additionally, we must consider federally incarcerated persons and people on supervised release located in Ohio that are not a part of that large number. This level of funding has the potential to significantly decrease if allocated to prevention programming, education (primary, post-secondary, and trade/certifications), workforce development, mental health, and substance use programming in lieu of incarceration. This type of programming can not only positively lower the recidivism rate, decrease incarceration, but can potentially lead to the beginning of reallocation of funds to other line items in our state and a federal budget that positively impact our communities.