State Threatens to Lock Up Funds That Reduce Prison Rates

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April 14, 2011; Source: | Conventional wisdom would suggest that programs successfully keeping people out of prison would be a magnet for funding. Yet, in Oregon, which a newly released report labels a “national standout” in reducing the number of inmates who are re-incarcerated, the governor is proposing cuts that would hobble programs that have helped to substantially lower the state’s recidivism rates.

According to the, Gov. John Kitzhaber wants to lock away $16 million in funding for “prison-based alcohol and drug treatment, vocational training, parenting programs and cognitive-based interventions designed to transform inmates’ criminal behavior into responsible conduct.”

If the governor has his way, one program that would be severely weakened is the nonprofit Pathfinders. For nearly two decades, the program has been successfully teaching inmates how to live crime-free lives, a process that begins in prison. Pathfinders is facing “its biggest hit” since it began 18 years ago, and Executive Director Sharon Darcy says she hopes it will “survive at some level, but we don’t know that right now.”

The loss of Pathfinders would be a double blow – possibly leading to higher recidivism and increased prison violence. The program works inside most of Oregon’s prisons, where Darcy says inmates are taught “pro-social behaviors.” Darcy adds that often people will be heard saying in classes, “‘Wow, why didn’t anybody ever teach me that as a kid?’ or ‘Why didn’t I know that?’ Stuff that we just take for granted, that we learned in pro-social households. A lot of people that we work with grew up in second- and third-generation criminal families, so they didn’t learn it.”

Darcy believes her program also helps keep prisons safe because it shows inmates how they can begin making changes to their thinking before they’re released. Just this week, a report from the Pew Center on the States called Oregon’s 22.8 percent recidivism rate the lowest of the 41 states studied. The irony of those findings isn’t lost on David Rogers, executive director of Partnership for Safety and Justice, a group that advocates for inmate treatment programs. “On the one hand we’re being heralded for doing the right thing, and as soon as we get that acknowledgement, we end up doing the opposite.”

Rogers says the proposed cuts are a “real example of being penny-wise and pound-foolish with our public-safety dollars. These programs really are instrumental in reducing future crime and recidivism.”—Bruce Trachtenberg

  • Chester Hartman

    Any way we can get citation to the report mentioned in the article?