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The goal of incarceration and community supervision has been redefined.

The primary purpose of the law enforcement system used to be incapacitating a person convicted of a crime until their sentence was complete, an approach that led to higher and higher recidivism rates and an ever-expanding need for local, state and federal tax dollars.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics acknowledges that “95 percent of the nation’s incarcerated population will eventually return to their communities.”

Understanding the implications of the old model, and the fact that nearly everyone comes back into the community, has led to a dramatic paradigm shift. The focus is now toward collaborative re-entry practices that make smarter use of resources to ensure that public safety expectations are met by better preparing people for their transition back into the community.

A recent quote from Matthew Krueger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, states, “Although there are consequences for breaking the law, it is important for our returning citizens to know that after they have paid their dues, there is forgiveness. On behalf of law enforcement, we welcome them back to the community, and we want to help them head in a more constructive direction.”

Locally, this has been reinforced by a trend to create opportunities and strong community partnerships to insure, as much as possible, that re-entrants have the resources they need to find a path to community restoration.

Terra Wendricks, Wisconsin Department of Corrections field supervisor, says it this way, “Since 2011, the Department of Corrections has embedded our business practices with evidence-based practices such as a standardized risk and needs assessment, ongoing program evaluation and having agents trained and utilizing evidence-based principles. Our community is safer when our clients are given opportunities to be successful through strong re-entry initiatives, as offered by Racine/Kenosha Vocational Ministry. By partnering with R/KVM, we are able to reduce crime, keep families together and help clients become assets to the community.”

April marks Second Chance Month, where programs like ours throughout the country will spread awareness of the importance of re-entry and celebrate the hard work they’ve done.

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These efforts — which include creating access to employment, finding stable housing, and providing effective parole supervision — all contribute to the complex fabric of successful re-entry.

With the research on what works to reduce recidivism expanding, and both sides of the political aisle advocating programs and policies that promote successful re-entry, we’ve never been more equipped to make communities like ours safer, and we’ve never been more prepared to support second chances.

Although we have a ways to go, there is good momentum to create healthier paths to restoring our families and strengthening our cities. Let’s keep it going!

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James Schatzman is the executive director of Racine Vocational Ministry.

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Assistant Managing Editor

Pete Wicklund is the local editor for The Journal Times.

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