A lot of questions -- and anxieties -- arise concerning the city government's plan to get jobs for some prison inmates. We put a few of these questions to Mayor Barry the other day.
First, the mayor insists the city is not bending any parole procedures. When it comes to granting parole, the parole board here is tougher than most around the country, he says, granting about 49 percent of those requested; nationally, the figure is far higher, running anywhere between 60 to 75 percent. The board here will not grant any parole -- even to a perfect-model prisoner -- if that person has no arrangements for a job. This isn't that easy, even though the city has had some successes finding jobs. The choice, as he sees it, is between keeping these inmates incarcerated -- at a cost of about $16,000 a year -- and trying to create a better prospect for work.
The jobs to be given certain inmates are temporary, for 12 weeks, and are not regular jobs that now exist. The inmates will be paid $3.35 an hour, out of the corrections department budget, to do various menial tasks: for example, helping to fix up public housing, from electrical systems to plumbing. Whether they continue on to other jobs will be up to private employers.
What about danger? Whatever any of these inmates did that got them imprisoned, those approved by the parole board have legally "served their time." In some instances, that minimum time will be far longer than others. But if they are eligible, and if they are denied parole now because they don't have jobs, they will be coming back into society at some point, anyway. So either they are kept in prison for now or they go to work. Mayor Barry sees the city's work experiment as merely the lesser of two evils.
What is the government doing about jobs for people who haven't broken the law? The mayor replies that about 20,000 people between the ages of 14 and 21 will be in the summer jobs program and another 3,000 jobs are involved in city hall's job training program. Among those in the general unemployed, 18- to-24-year-old category, a significant number have prison records, anyway, and Mayor Barry says the government is working to help them too.
This isn't the first such experiment. In January 1984, the city worked with 158 parolees and succeeded in placing 87 of them in permanent private jobs. There were some failures in that group. This time supervision must be greatly improved. The mayor says it will be, and says the government will report to the public after the first 30 days on how the participants have been doing.
The supervision aspect strikes us as being the key. Everything else will depend on that.