Maine's prisoner re-entry program: $50 and a bus ticket to Portland

By Stan Moody | Dec 18, 2009

When I came to the Maine State Prison in Warren for my final interview for a position as chaplain, it was a cold day in December. A released inmate had been escorted out the front door, whereupon he appeared to be waiting on a bench outside in inadequate clothing for a ride that failed to materialize. A guard took notice, and a process began unfolding to receive permission to bring him inside the warm lobby to wait.

His ride - Mom - would be delayed for over an hour for one reason or another.

If he did not owe the prison any money for minor infractions, he would have received $50 and a bus ticket to anywhere he wanted to go, provided it was to a designated bus station within the state of Maine and no farther south than Portland. His probation officer at the other end of the ride would have been alerted to a new "client," with all the ramifications that suggests.

I suppose there was a time when $50 was a week's pay and could be stretched accordingly. These days, it might buy lunch, a snack or a phone card in case you get sidetracked or the bus breaks down. I wondered what the return on investment for $50 and a bus ticket might be.

It would get you back to where you came from -- back on the streets with your old buddies.

It would get you a room with Mom and Dad and take you a nanosecond or two to regress to the bad-boy syndrome, whereupon you could reward Mom and Dad with a repeat performance that gave them their last five-year vacation from your antics.

It would get you back to your girlfriend, the one who filed the assault charge against you in the first place. Things may have gotten complicated since you left. After the first couple of days of bliss, you might start getting a little upset at the quality of the interest she has been garnering locally. Tension of any kind could be damaging to your long-term prospects.

If you ask Commissioner of Corrections Marty Magnusson what this is all about, he will tell you that "they" took away all Maine's re-entry funds. By "they," I would assume he means the Legislature through the Appropriations Committee, the same committee that eliminated the position of inmate advocate a couple of years ago. How much advocacy can you offer anyway for someone who is about to inherit $50 and a bus ticket and that's all?

Leaving the protection of prison with $50 and a bus ticket most often consigns the ex-offender to the poorest of neighborhoods, unstable family relationships and poor social bonds, the very ingredients that contribute to a life of crime. While prison case workers (some more than others) make every effort to build an effective release plan, adherence to that plan is far more problematic. Without a community system in place to protect the public from a re-offense and the ex-offender from falling off the cliff of too many choices too soon, the success rate is abysmal.

Maine currently has the lowest incarceration rate of any state in the United States. Yet its population in its state prison system and county jails exceeds 4,000. The citizen cost of housing these people is upward of $300 for every man, woman and child in Maine, or around $1,000 per family per year and growing.

We are presently over capacity at the state level by 300 prisoners, and our jail population has increased 89 percent over 10 years; 58 percent eventually either re-offend or violate probation, 68 percent of those in the first six months and 28 percent in the next six months, according to studies conducted over the past four years.

The most vulnerable population of ex-offenders in Maine is previously incarcerated males. Studies have shown that if you can offer housing, volunteer mentoring and job training for the first six months, you can cut the first-year recidivism rate from 56 percent to less than 7 percent, according to the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in Washington, D.C.

At a cost of $10,000 per released inmate to enter and graduate from a community-based program with housing, job training and mentoring, the state would save around $1 million for every 100 enrollees on recidivism reduction alone.

Could it be done for $10,000 per client? That would depend on the ability of the Department of Corrections to shed its history of intransigence and invite community activists and organizations to participate in a public/private partnership to cut costs and improve public safety.

Churches, social workers, medical practitioners, schools and substance abuse counselors stand ready to engage in such an effort.

We taxpayers wait patiently as the jail population in Maine continues to grow at 9 percent a year while the rest of the state struggles for survival, thereby becoming increasingly vulnerable to crime.

Stan Moody, former state representative and chaplain at the Maine State Prison, is the author of "Crisis in Evangelical Scholarship" and "McChurched: 300 Million Served and Still Hungry." He currently serves as pastor at the Meeting House Church in Manchester. His Web site is stanmoody.com.

 

 

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