(FinalCall.com) – A two-year study conducted by the Chicago Urban League determined that Black incarceration rates in Illinois will remain high because released inmates return to impoverished neighborhoods that are not equipped to nurture rehabilitation.
The study also determined that nearly half of all Black offenders in the state return to prison within three years of their release. Both figures are disproportionately higher than White ex-offenders.
“Former offenders already face a lot of obstacles. We are talking about people who have already paid their debt to society, they have served their sentences and now it’s become apparent there’s very little opportunity for them,” said James Compton, president and chief executive officer of the Chicago Urban League.
The study examined Chicago’s 15 poorest zip codes and found that Blacks were more likely than not to settle in neighborhoods with few jobs and even fewer resources. Chicago Blacks, according to the study, comprise 63 percent of the state’s 43,000 prisoners and constitute 60 percent of its 32,000 parolees. For every 100,000 Blacks in the state, 1,550 have done jail time.
For Whites, only 127 per 100,000 have spent time in jail.
The Urban League is most concerned with the issue of prison recidivism, where incarceration becomes a career choice for former felons and inmates. Nearly 48 percent of Blacks released from prison return within three years, nearly 10 percent higher than Whites, the study said.
Ex-cons offer solutions
“Here is a man who was a dope fiend, but now, as he re-enters the community, the halfway house he is assigned to is in the ‘red-light district’ –the very same dope-infested area he came out of in the first place. So, what chance does that man have in staying clean and out of prison?” asks Al-Malik Farrakhan, founder and CEO of the Washington, DC-based Cease Fire Don’t Smoke the Brothers and Sisters, Inc., a national transitional and re-entry program for former inmates. (He is no relation to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.)
While many cities around the United States celebrated lower numbers of homicides in 2002, violent crimes, and robberies are on a steady rise. Coupled with the scourges of homelessness, unemployment, layoffs and hunger, over 600,000 men and women are returning to communities from incarceration annually, with little or no transitional help from institutions, family or society.
In more cases than not, this will lead to these former offenders or inmates returning to prison, activists note.
“Spending $30,000 per year to lock someone up in jail with no drug therapy, no skills training, or counseling is ridiculous,” said Mr. S. Archye Leacock co-founder of the Philadelphia, Pa.-based Institute for the Development of African American Youth, Inc. (IDAAY). “What we need to do is spend that money before hand. The government needs to understand those monies need to be allocated toward prevention, in communities, schools, neighborhoods, in job training and in building opportunities and access to those opportunities for young people,” Mr. Leacock told The Final Call.
A major bone hurdle for organizers of such programs is that they themselves are ex-felons or former inmates, making funding from government or charitable entities almost impossible. Many re-entry and mentoring programs exist throughout the U.S., but are mostly privately funded. Government, as well as charitable agencies, often shy away from programs run by ex-offenders and consider them an investment risk. But many men and women who hope to save youth and rebuild crime-scarred communities believe ex-offenders can help.
Julio Medina, executive director of Exodus Transitional Community, a New York City-based support service for former inmates, told The Final Call that stopping youth from moving toward a life behind bars and prison recidivism requires an all-encompassing approach.
“I think no one can do this better than men and women who’ve gone through this process, who really understand it and have gone back into the community, churches, mosques and wherever we need to be, to deliver a message of change,” he said. “We are the experts at doing these things. We are the ones who are going to turn this around, even with the gang culture among our youth. We are the ones to do this.”
“After 12 years of living with 3,000 men in any facility I’ve been sent to, I know men. Our brothers and sisters need to know that they belong in a community that’s non-judgmental of the fact that they are ex-felons,” exclaimed Julio Medina.
“It’s a real struggle we see all the time. People are being cycled in and out of prison, and in between, they are trying to get out of some pretty depressing conditions,” said Paul Street, Chicago Urban League vice president.