The major states, California, New York and many others are in the news for all the wrong reasons – they have a terrible time with budget shortfalls and terrible unemployment rates. They have all hit upon a surprising way of tackling both their budget deficits and their unemployment rates at one go – these states are turning themselves into job finders for the thousands of convicts who leave their prisons and usually find their way back into prison because they can’t find a reasonable way to make a living.
While the general lay public might bristle at the kind of handholding convicts seem to be getting from the government when law-abiding citizens are left to fend for themselves in an unforgiving job market, prisoner advocates and politicians from both parties have found something to agree on – they love the program because it appears to actually undeniably bring results. In any given state, the upkeep of a prisoner for a year costs something around $50,000. That’s more than what it costs to put a child through college a year. If state governments would use the money they apply to locking people up uselessly to aggressively finding them jobs, they would help the economy in innumerable ways. The thinking does seem to be paying off. Various states that have signed on to this kind of program are finding that being job finders for their ex-convicts helps them reduce prison population preemptively by up to 20%. If they don’t help those released convicts with drug rehab, job training and job finders programs, if they become unwilling to spend a few million dollars on these programs, they’ll just find that the have to spend billions of dollars locking them up when desperate without a job, these ex-convicts commit crimes again.
Take a rough guess: how much does the country spend in all on locking up all its prisoners (there are 2 million of them)? The answer to that would be $70 billion. Every state that is in desperate straits trying to do something about the holes in its budget sees all these billions of dollars being spent uselessly to lock people up over and over again. And they are tempted to use that money for something positive. Clearly, a country cannot afford to lock up about 1% of its population. It’s just a matter of basic economics. For whatever reasons people end up committing crimes, one thing is certain – training them and finding jobs for the to help them join society again as independent and reasonable citizens is the only way any nation can deal with its crime problems.
And the states are really going all out turning themselves into job finders for ex-convicts. Any company that hires an ex-convict for at least a few months gets wage subsidies – several thousand dollars a year. Ordinary law-abiding citizens may feel resentful at the special treatment that ex-criminals get. But it’s not really special treatment if you think about it. Anyone with a criminal record just cannot find a job. They live their lives out with a permanent stigma. They just need some help getting past that.