When somebody is released from prison, there’s a strong chance that they will be back behind bars within just a few years. Now, the prosecutors who put them away are hoping to stop the revolving prison door.
The people who prosecute the offenders usually just move on to the next case with little thought of what happens when the bad guy gets out. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg thinks that’s a failure in the system and he wants to change that.
About 8,000 people get out of state prison each year. He told the Seattle City Council that prisoner re-entry into society should be part of the mission of the criminal justice system.
“It could pay off in public safety improvements. It could pay off in reducing criminal justice costs. And certainly in the hard to capture but equally important human potential that we can gain when people do not go back to a life of crime.”
Currently, about 40 percent of all individuals who get out of prison will return within three years. Last month, the re-admission rate was 46 percent.
Instead of just accepting and planning for recidivism, Satterberg is proposing a city-county reentry commission as part of a series of reforms to help inmates transition back into society. The county is working with a $50,000 planning grant.
State Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner said Washington is near the bottom in the number of people it sends to prison. “Washington has one of the lowest commitment rates in the country. We’re 42nd – so who we have in our system are the highest risk, highest need population so we have to have a very strong reentry process.”
Satterberg’s plan involves recommendations based on six categories of need: employment, transition, treatment, education, family support and housing.
According to former prison inmate John Page. “Housing is the Achilles’ heel. Housing is actually harder to get than employment. But we know that folks are housed, no matter what their offense was their recidivism right goes down exponentially.”
Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw has been working on a small program in Seattle to help former prisoners get housing and jobs. “A young man came up to me and he whispered and said, ‘I can’t read.'”
Satterberg wants to build what he calls a “reentry tool kit” to help prisoners find housing, employment and key services.
And Bagshaw said that tool kit would have made all the difference in the world to that prisoner.
Councilmember Bruce Harrell thinks a lot can be accomplished without any additional money.
Still, Satterberg is lobbying the city, King County and the state to support the principles of his reentry program.
Said Satterberg, “I think this reentry could be the next great criminal justice reform.”