Posted by Doreen Higgins on Jan 29, 2018
Our member Ron Krannich gave us some sad statistics and sadder stories of struggles last Wednesday morning.  Ron has a PhD from Northern Illinois University and has been a Peace Corps volunteer, a teacher, a professor, and a Fulbright Scholar; he is the author of more than a hundred books addressing the issues of reentry into society, both for the military and for those released from prison.  It was the latter set of problems which he addressed for us.
The United States has a larger proportion of its population locked up than any other nation; the fastest growing part of this population is female. Some 77 million of our population has an arrest record and at this moment, 707 out of every 100,000 are inmates. Every year 11-12 million people circulate in and out of our jails, detention centers and prisons.  What do they do when they get out? How can they be helped? Who do they turn to? Who will house them? Offer them employment?  Without employment, many return to crime as a way to support themselves, and then they are back in jail – it’s called recidivism, and it happens to around 70 % of those released.  Keeping a person incarcerated costs taxpayers dearly – $25,000 a year each – so solutions are desperately needed.
There are programs offered by a few states – Maryland, Virginia, and Ohio are among them – starting six months before release and addressing the issues.  These include illiteracy, mental illness, substance abuse, anger, and often a total lack of any marketable skill, which is one of the reasons many inmates turned to crime in the first place.  Employers are understandably reluctant to hire them, presenting yet another hurdle.  Pre-release programs cover matters such as dress, interviewing, skill acquisition, and transitional housing. These programs sometimes offer learning opportunities for skills and trades.  There are, throughout the US, many people and institutions involved, such as local government, churches and other volunteer organizations, but there is little one-on-one advice and no coordination of efforts.  Nineteen states have drug courts, where those who are guilty of possession are offered 12 months of rehab rather than a prison term; some states have ‘mental health’ courts, where these issues are addressed in order to avoid sending the sufferers to jail or prison.
Ron said to us, “we know many of the solutions, and some states address them, but it’s not enough.”  The issue is mired in politics, with vested interests.  There are private prisons, run for profit – some 8% of prisoners are in them – but they have little incentive to help those trying to get back into society. These too are a “political football.”   Our prison/jail population is a problem crying for a solution but there is no central responsibility and little public knowledge or interest. We thanked Ron for his information and insight, and for a career substantially devoted to this social problem.