Violent Offenders Released To The Community: An Evaluation Of The

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Reducing Recidivism Using an Evidence Based Approach

Introduction

One of the ironies of the United States, the “Land of the Free,” is that this country incarcerates more of its citizens per capita than any other country on earth today. While substantive changes are currently envisioned for reforming the nation’s criminal justice system, the harsh reality facing many lawbreakers has been the potential for lengthy prison sentences –even for some nonviolent offenses. Further exacerbating the problem are the numerous challenges that offenders face when they are released from incarceration into the community. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that the recidivism rate for ex-offenders remains disturbingly high. Indeed, nearly 44% of all incarcerated prisons reoffend during their first year and more than two-thirds reoffend within 3 years following their release despite increasingly aggressive efforts by public and private sector organizations to help these individuals make the transition to society successfully. One initiative that has shown promise in helping to reduce the alarming recidivism rate in the United States is the Boston Reentry Initiative or BRI (Braga, Piehl & Hureau, 2009). This intervention provides a collaborative framework in which law enforcement agencies, social services agencies and faith-based organizations can pool their resources to directly address the obstacles facing newly released offenders in order to reduce their potential for reoffending and returning to prison. The purpose of this paper is to provide a summary of the research and an overview of the Boston Police Department and Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department’s BRI, followed by a critique of the initiative and a conclusion that presents key findings about this timely effort to reduce recidivism rates in a major American city.

Summary

During the period between 1980 and 2001, the numbers of offenders that were released back into their communities maintained pace with the staggering 240% increase in incarceration rates that took place during this period in the nation’s history. This percentage translates into approximately 630,000 offenders that were released from U.S. prisons and jails, and this figure represents a whopping four-fold increase in the number of released offenders compared to 1981 (Braga et al., 2009). As noted above, a majority of these prisoners will reoffend within 1 to 3 years, and part of the problem can be traced to the woeful condition of the nation’s prisons and jails. Not only are many of these criminal justice facilities already dangerously overcrowded, they lack any meaningful opportunities for prisoners to learn the skills they will need to successfully make the transition to back in society (Braga et al., 2009). In fact, according to the study by Braga and his associates, “Regrettably, the American correctional system does little to prepare these inmates for life after release [and] many inmates do not participate in work assignments while incarcerated” (2009, p. 412).

In response to these trends, the Boston Police Department (BDI) in collaboration with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department (SCSD) developed and implemented the above-mentioned BRI which is specifically focused on reducing recidivism rates by providing newly released prisoners with the skills they will need to legally survive on their own and become contributing members of American society. Although the initiative is comparatively modest in the actual numbers of offenders that can be helped at a given point in time, the BRI does attempt to make a significant difference in the lives of the 15 to 20 newly released…other spurious reasons that are difficult or impossible to refute. More problematic still, perhaps, none of the subjective or objective participation criteria for the BRI appear to take into account any mental health disorders that offenders may be experiencing which can derail any recidivism intervention (Interventions for adult offenders with serious mental illness, 2013), meaning that the time and taxpayer resources that are invested in these offenders were simply a waste. Although it is unreasonable to suggest that the intelligence team that is tasked with selecting offenders for participation in the BRI attempt to perform mental evaluations in addition to their other responsibilities, it just makes good sense to have these evaluations performed by qualified mental health clinicians as part of the selection process. This does not mean, however, that offenders with mental disorders should be prohibited from participating in the BRI, but it does mean that the intelligence team is overlooking an important part of the calculus by failing to take these issues into account.

Conclusion

The research showed that the need is great and the stakes are high. While it is possible to quantify the economic costs of property crimes, it is impossible to calculate the human toll that is exacted on individuals and their communities by violent crime. Indeed, violent crimes not only harm the direct victims, they also adversely affect the entire American society. Moreover, given the prohibitively expensive costs of apprehending, prosecuting and incarcerating offenders, every dollar that is invested prudently in reducing the potential for released criminals to reoffend represents a good investment of scarce taxpayer resources. In the final analysis, it is reasonable to conclude that evidence-based interventions such as the Boston Reentry Initiative provide multiple…

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