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Sun Aug 23, 2015, 01:13 PM

How hospitals could help cut prison recidivism

The other side of the prison coin is recidivism. Prisons are often called “correctional facilities” but that is a cruel joke – they do a dismal job in turning lives around. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about two-thirds of released state prisoners were re-arrested within three years and three-quarters within five. Prison is a revolving door.

It’s true that there can be opportunities in prison for inmates who dropped out of high school to study for a GED to help prepare them for release. However many prisons don’t make this easy. I have helped one inmate studying for his GED by supplying study books – only to discover that the facility places a six-book limit on any inmate’s bookshelf. Prisons may also teach an inmate a new work skill – although many ex-offenders discover they face licensing barriers that makes their new skill worthless.

So why don’t prisons do a better job at helping inmates to re-enter society and workforce after their release? Because they have little incentive to do so. The revolving door is good for business. It means more jobs for guards, more prison construction and usually fatter budgets for the prison system. If prisons did things to cut recidivism it would mean fewer repeat customers. Like Motel6, their incentive for prisons is to tell people checking out, “We’ll keep the lights on for you.”

*Imagine if prisons faced a readmissions penalty. Let’s say that if an unusually high number of released inmates from a particular prison were convicted and sent back to prison within three years then the prison’s budget would be cut and the bonuses and salary increases of senior prison staff trimmed back. Just as with hospitals, the first reaction would be to complain at the “unfairness” of being held liable for a released inmate’s return to crime. But after that the prison management would start to do a much better job than today in preparing inmates for re-entry into the community. Petty restrictions and surcharges on phone calls to family members would quickly go – the erosion of family ties increases the likelihood of a return to crime. Limits on GED textbooks would certainly vanish.

*The current incentive system for prisons rewards recidivism, just as the Medicare payment system for hospitals used to rewarded readmissions. Changing the incentives for hospitals has encouraged managers to find ways to improve the long-term health of their Medicare patients. It’s now time to change the readmission incentives for prisons."


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