Starting the reentry process at the beginning.

Author:Marchese, Joseph J.
Position:Speak Out

With large numbers of offenders returning to communities from prisons throughout the United States, offender reentry dominates corrections agendas. Accepting the premise that it's just a matter of time before "parolees" re-offend endangers public safety and is far too costly. In addition, communities need to come to terms with this issue and accept the fact that returning offenders, in most cases, were once and are now again citizens of the community. They are not aliens who have arrived from another nation called "Prison." Formerly incarcerated offenders who do re-offend not only endanger public safety but also account for a large portion of the criminal justice budgets in our communities.

In progressive criminal justice systems, the reentry process begins when an offender commences his or her period of incarceration. This is an improvement from some systems that do not focus on reentry until the inmate is ready for discharge. However, the reentry process should start even earlier--at the plea bargaining/sentencing stage, when interactions between the district attorney, defense counsel and the judge take place. Even though plea bargaining is an integral part of the criminal justice system, we need to ask the tough questions of whether it either enhances public safety or helps the offender reintegrate into society. Does a bargained term of five to seven years serve public safety any better than the original proposed sentence of eight to 10 years? If you look closely, you can see that plea bargaining may not enhance public safety or even save taxpayers money by reducing the number of trials because repeat offenders also tie up court calendars. The impact on public safety and the costs to the community for detection, apprehension, prosecution, incarceration, victim services, public defender fees, etc. are significant when formerly incarcerated offenders commit new crimes. And when new crimes are committed, they contribute to clogging the court system, which negates the impact of disposing cases through the plea bargaining process.

Most of us will accept that the purpose of a prison sentence is punishment and/or to prevent further criminal activity during the period of incarceration; however, punishment is sometimes ineffective, and incapacitation is usually a temporary solution to a long-term problem. Enhancing public safety and having offenders adopt law-abiding lifestyles needs to be the overriding concern for the criminal justice system. Using plea bargaining...

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