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March 27, 2007 - New York Times (NY)

Editorial: A Smoother Re-Entry

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With corrections costs going through the roof, states and localities are beginning to figure out the long-term costs of just shoving inmates out the door when their sentences are finished.

To prevent people from ending up right back inside, states will need to embrace re-entry programs that provide ex-offenders with training, jobs, places to live and a range of social services that don't exist in most places.

This month, the Washington State Senate passed a farsighted bill that could be a model for the nation.

It would require the state Corrections Department to fashion individual re-entry plans -- detailing job training, drug treatment and educational goals -- for every inmate.

The bill, which is expected to pass the House as well, would provide a tax incentive for companies that hire previously incarcerated people, and would prompt a review of state laws that may bar felons from state-licensed occupations that are in no way related to their offenses.

Researchers have shown over and over again that inmates who earn colleges degrees are far less likely to end up back behind bars.

But like most states, Washington backed away from prison college education programs during the 1990s.

That's also when Congress barred inmates from receiving federal Pell grants.

Washington State's proposed new program would partly reverse that policy by allowing inmates to take college classes that would be paid for by the inmates, third parties or perhaps through loans.

It would also require the state to pay the full costs for inmates seeking high school diplomas or high school equivalency degrees.

The exact costs are as yet uncertain.

But they would clearly pale beside the billions that the state would save if it slowed the growth of the prison population and turned more of its ex-convicts into law-abiding, taxpaying citizens.

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