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The emerging bipartisan movement urges policy reforms that will dramatically reduce the number of people entering prison through sentencing changes, increase the number leaving prison without jeopardizing public safety, and lower recidivism. And, both sides agree that the key to recidivism is successful re-entry programs that help prisoners during and after release with vocational training and job placement, substance abuse and mental health treatment, housing placement, and family reunification assistance. Lastly, closer community supervision provides a treasure trove of cost savings. The Pew Center states less than one-third of offenders are incarcerated though nine-tenths of corrections dollars are spent on prisons, and the NGA notes that staffing comprises 75%-80% of corrections costs. Therefore, shifting resources from prison guards to more parole and probation officers would help states realize significant savings not only because the daily cost of imprisoning an inmate is 20 times the cost of supervising him, but because effectively monitored ex-offenders are much less likely to reoffend.
The good news? Evidence shows that we get the biggest bang for our buck moving jobs from an imprisonment focus to a re-entry focus. The bad news? We did not acknowledge this sooner.