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Courts and Crime


Why does Ohio do better than the nation when it comes to prison recidivism?
A cooperative, holistic program is credited with turning people around
by WKSU's KEVIN NIEDERMIER


Reporter
Kevin Niedermier
 
A class at the Oriana House North Star Reentry program in Cleveland helping former inmates find work.
Courtesy of Kevin Niedermier
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In The Region:

In the next few weeks, Congress will vote on re-authorization of the Second Chance law. It funds programs aimed at keeping people from returning to prison, and it’s a priority for Ohio's U.S. Sen. Rob Portman. He says the effects are evident here in his home state.In Ohio, recidivism is 10 percent lower than the national rate of 40 percent.
State prison officials and community advocates say that’s due to a combination of federal, state and local efforts.

LISTEN: What it takes to stay out of prison.

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At any one time, several thousands of Cuyahoga County residents are incarcerated. Last year, the county reabsorbed more than 3,200 of them after they were released from the state prisons. That’s more returning inmates than any county in the state.
Many of them turned to Oriana House’s North Star reentry center in Cleveland. It offers help with everything from drug and alcohol addiction to child care, housing and mental health care to classes for finding a job.

Holistic approach keeping more people from returning to prison
“Thanks everyone for coming, I’m Ashley Wells the program services coordinator here..."

Six men and three women, all recently released from prison, are in the classroom. They’ll learn how to write resumes, dress for job interviews, and how to keep a job once employed. Down the hall, 21-year-old Darian Carter is taking a GED course. He was released from prison earlier this month after serving time for drug dealing. 

“I don’t have the proper education to fill out applications and stuff because of my past life history. But we are trying to get it together now, these programs could be very helpful for us.”

Not easy finding work after a felony conviction
Carter has been turned down for restaurant jobs and is now staying with different relatives while he tries to get his life on track and stay out of prison.

Illya McGee is North Star’s vice president for correctional programs. He says finding a job is no longer considered the only a key to a successful reentry. Keeping a job is now also a priority.

“Being able to get to work, being able to problem-solve, being able to work through issues with your boss . ... At Oriania House, we have booster classes to really engage those individuals to help deal with those day-to-day issues that may come up that sometimes we struggle with. And it’s given them a longevity in their workforce. They have someone to talk with, someone to reason with and talk out issues so they can go back the next day and feel comfortable with dealing with their employer.”

Another important piece of the puzzle is keeping former inmates away from away from old acquaintances who could lead them back to criminal activity and prison. McGee says part of that is reaching out beyond the inmate.

“I think one of the other things that has really been a focal point when you look at recidivism and client risk, is the ability to engage family members and have them be a part of that plan, and helping them to understand what some of the needs and struggles are. And giving them that knowledge so they’re part of the process.”

What are the risks for each inmate?
But McGee says he really started noticing Ohio’s falling recidivism rate a few years ago when the state corrections department began closer coordination with local reentry efforts. In addition to prison pre-release programs, the state started working up a “risk assessment” profile for each inmate which it shares with local agencies. It shows what issues could keep an inmate from successfully returning to society.

Sara Andrews with the state corrections department says this holistic, cooperative effort gained momentum in 2008. That’s the year Ohio’s Legislature approved long-term investment in state and local reentry programs.  

A long-term effort and investment
“All of the key players started talking about how crime is a systemic problem, and we all have a part we can contribute to make our communities safer.  And so, how can we work better together.”

Andrews says these programs can’t take all the credit. Other factors, like the crime rate and the economy also contribute to flucuations in the number of people returning to prison. Despite Ohio’s relatively low recidivism, prisons here are still overcrowded, and this year the inmate population is expected to hit a record high of more than 51,000. Each year the state releases about 20,000 inmates back into society. So it’s getting more and more important to keep them from going back behind bars yet again.

(Click image for larger view.)


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