John McWhorter of The Manhattan Institute recently wrote an interesting piece at The Root about prisoner re-entry programs. Parole and re-entry programs often provide very basic services — but services that go a long way in helping people find and keep jobs. “The immediate task at hand for an ex-offender is becoming able to work,” McWhorter writes. ”Ex-cons often don’t have a Social Security number — and forget about a birth certificate. As soon as an ex-offender comes in, OAR [Offender Aid and Restoration of Essex County] gets him those documents, plus a driver’s license, if he qualifies.”
A social security number? A driver’s license? It seems like so little — and it is — but in a modern society, it’s difficult to find work without these things. Conservatives would rather support re-entry services like OAR or Prisoners Resource Center (both in Newark, NJ) than spend tax dollars on the far higher cost of feeding and housing a person who cannot find a job and who is repeatedly traveling in and out of the prison system.
McWhorter tells a terrific story about an ex-con with over 50 convictions named Anthony Malpica. Malpica entered a Philadelphia re-entry program called Ready, Willing & Able and quickly found a job as a street sweeper. At the age of 45, it was his first legal job. Malpica later decided to become a locksmith’s apprentice, and now, he is a full locksmith (not an apprentice), and he is married and a homeowner. It is a terrific story, but true conservatives won’t be swayed by anecdotes. They want data. Well, McWhorter has that too: “[Malpica is not] an exception. Fewer than 5 percent of Ready, Willing & Able’s grads are arrested again after a year. And Ready, Willing & Able serves 1,000 people a day.”
Effective re-entry programs promote fundamental conservative values like hard work and personal accountability. Moreover, they promote these values while improving public safety and being tough on criminal justice spending. Rather than clamoring for solutions directed by the federal government, McWhorter writes, “we can start supporting and making noise about something that already exists, is making a difference and could do even more.”