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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Helping ex-felons return to society


Editorial

A plan by two members of Cincinnati City Council to help ex-felons re-enter society when they leave Ohio prisons deserves the community's support.

Crime would decrease. Fewer criminals would re-offend and return to prison. And the social and economic costs associated with thousands of former felons released back into our community every year would be lessened if they could find work, education, and follow the law.

To make this happen will take a lot of effort, but the benefits will be worth it. Convicted felons often leave prison with no home to go to, and many desperately need education and job skills.

A "Second Chance Work Force Summit" will be held April 3 at the Theodore Berry Recreation Center in the West End to address some of these issues. Democrat Alicia Reece and Republican Sam Malone are spearheading the event. Their aim is to develop a regional job plan for former prison inmates.

Social workers, probation officers, employers, unions and others will be available to work with former prisoners, assess their needs and help them rejoin society.

It's an important national issue as well. Last year President Bush introduced a $22.5 million re-entry workforce development initiative through the Department of Labor.

Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, will give the keynote address at the event. He said Hamilton County receives about 3,000 ex-offenders back into the community each year and 25,000 are returned statewide.

Yet, nationally, nearly two-thirds of released inmates return to prison within three years.

"Unless we want to spend all of our budget on people coming back (into the prison system), we need to start doing something about it," Wilkinson said. "This is more than just a public service, but it is a matter of repatriating people back into our community."

The reality is that not all ex-cons will succeed. They will commit crimes and go back to prison. But those who want to do better need an opportunity to do so.

Reece said one way to help would be to ask employers with city contracts to hire ex-cons, once they are trained, particularly in the construction and hospitality industries. That's a good start.




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