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Remaking lives; Federal grants to help region cut recidivism.

A $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help Worcester County reduce recidivism rates is sure to rekindle the ongoing debate over incarceration and rehabilitation.

That debate features lots of heated rhetoric, and only a small patch of common ground: Everyone wants dangerous criminals off the streets and communities to be safe. But how to achieve those goals becomes enormously complex and controversial, particularly when one takes costs into account.

Some cite statistics showing that about two-thirds of those released from state prisons will be rearrested within three years as evidence that rehabilitation programs are a waste of taxpayers' dollars that would be better spent building prisons.

Reality is a lot more complicated than that. In fact, dollars spent on health, education and welfare programs can prevent many individuals from becoming habitual criminals, cutting short cycles of violence and dependency that inevitably cost taxpayers more than preventive efforts.

But for such programs to work, they must be efficient. The same is true of any programs aimed at helping those who have already spent time behind bars.

Yesterday's grant, according to Worcester County Sheriff Lewis G. Evangelidis, will be used for substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, vocational training, anger management, and other services shown to reduce recidivism.

That won't quiet critics, but we have two reasons for optimism about these funds for Worcester County.

First, Mr. Evangelidis has consistently demonstrated that he is an honest, proactive, and effective administrator. This money is sure to be well spent.

Second, results from several states involved in initiatives to reduce recidivism in the last decade are showing results.

Following passage of the 2008 Second Chance Act, a handful of states, including Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Wisconsin, began to turn to education and counseling.

And rather than using arrest records to measure recidivism, these states are measuring the rates at which prisoners set free are back in prison within three years.

Progress has been made. In Connecticut, for example, those released in 2007 showed a recidivism rate of 43.9 percent, but for those released in 2010, the rate fell to 40 percent -- an 8.9 percent reduction. Georgia reduced recidivism by 10 percent, South Carolina by 17.9 percent, and North Carolina by 10.3 percent.

Recidivism rates of between 25 percent and 50 percent in these states are still too high. But rates elsewhere are worse.

One can debate forever whether society owes ex-prisoners a second chance at a better life. But this much is certain: For the good of society and public safety, we owe it to ourselves to try.

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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 21, 2015
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