We Can Break the Cycle of Prison

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In his Feb. 11 op-ed column, "Reinventing Criminal Justice," David Farabee stressed the importance of certain and swift punishment as a deterrent to crime. But while that is key, it is not enough to reduce our swelling prison population. If past patterns hold, more than two-thirds of the approximately 650,000 people who leave state prison this year will be arrested again within three years.

A Senate bill I have co-authored, the Second Chance Act, would give states the flexibility to develop an array of prisoner reentry programs to fit their circumstances. Last month the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, the nonpartisan research arm of the state legislature, reviewed 40 years of programs designed to reduce recidivism. The study found that, on average, vocational education programs in prison reduced recidivism by nearly 13 percent. The study also found that cognitive-behavioral treatment programs reduced recidivism rates by an average of just over 8 percent.

Reducing recidivism benefits taxpayers, who must shoulder the burden of rising prison costs. More important, the reduction in crime that comes with reduced recidivism is a great public benefit.

We should not be resigned to allowing generation after generation to return to prison because they don't have the tools to break the cycle. The Second Chance Act could help stop this pernicious cycle.


U.S. Senator (R-Kan.)


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