This post has been edited for clarity.
Mother Jones has a new project called "SLAMMED: The Coming Prison Meldown," that deals with our ever-expanding prison system. Justine Sharrock writes about how, in Kansas, previously skeptical corrections professionals were pleasantly surprised about how effective transitional services could be, properly supported.
The problem is that political debates about crime often degenerate into demagoguery, with politicians describing social investments that are effective in reducing recidivism as "giveaways" to felons who don't deserve them. Others describe crime as resulting from "cultural problems" that can't be fixed, so all you can do is lock people up forever.
To a certain extent, it's true that there's a cultural component; regardless of who you were before you went to prison, the skills for surviving a bid are all about self-preservation in a dangerous environment, they don't help you keep a job or take care of a family. But that's part of the appeal of these programs, they create an environment of positive peer pressure where former felons are all working toward keeping out of trouble, rather than getting into it.
And having a sympathetic PO helps too Jeanette Brown, one of the parolees participating in the transitional program, found herself in some pretty dire straits after release.
It's not been a smooth road for Brown since then: Nine months after her release, she was hospitalized for surgery. Her 17-year-old son was in a car crash. Her manager at the bakery committed suicide. She turned in a coworker for using drugs. Her car broke down.
But with each hurdle, she turned to Obregon for support. The reentry folks paid for medication and car repairs and helped with her Section 8 application. Her community mentor visited her in the hospital. Now, when she sees the local cop around, they chat. Instead of dreading her parole meetings, Brown stops by Obregon's office after work to say hello. "Parole officers used to try to put me back in prison; now I feel like they are trying to keep me out," she explains.
In theory, that's the way the relationship between a PO and a parolee should work, but most of the time, it doesn't.