This is how we ‘break the chainz’ on criminal justice reform | Opinion

February 20, 2019 6:31 am

By Kevin E. Dolphin

Having lived on both sides of our criminal justice system, affected by incarceration on many different levels and now assisting reentrants in making a successful transition from prison back into society, I see and feel their everyday plight.

As men and women attempt to embark on the next chapter in their lives after having served time behind bars, many of them are met with the obstacles of unsafe housing, scarce employment opportunities, little to no family and friends support and in some cases, a probation or parole agent who treats them as if they are still confined.

A bill now before the state Senate (SB14), and co-sponsored by Sen. Anthony H. Williams, D-Philadelphia, and Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington, is a first step toward a more just system.

Through developing rational and even-handed responses to technical or administrative violations, incentivizing good behavior through merit time, and ensuring that probationers are provided with access to the services they need to be successful, the co-sponsors of this legislation recognize the importance of community supervision which rehabilitates offenders.

There may be no such thing as a perfect system, however my experience working with reentrants as the founder of Harrisburg-based Breaking the Chainz, Inc., has revealed to me multiple stumbling blocks to success.

Lack of access to safe housing, family reunification, job readiness, substance abuse treatment, anger management, financial literacy, conflict resolution, and decision making are all issues which must be addressed.

As we double down on our efforts in criminal justice reform, and look to cut down the recidivism rate, let us remember that prevention is better than incarceration.

Without treatment, returning citizens are 13 percent more likely to be rearrested, and 21 percent more likely to return to prison, according to the national Bureau of Justice Statistics.

While there is no easy fix to this sweltering problem that is costing the taxpayers millions of dollars each year, leaving families and communities broken and disenfranchised, there is broad support for reforms which will support those individuals who both want and need assistance as they strive for change.

We, as a state and country, should continue to push for reforms which move our communities away from incarceration and toward rehabilitation.

Dr. Kevin E. Dolphin is founder of Breaking the Chainz, Inc., a community-prison outreach program based in Harrisburg, Pa.

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