Our Views: Second act for inmates

With all the discussion about the need to expand Louisiana’s work force, a growing bipartisan consensus is focusing on the issue of those we’ve locked out of the work force, whose sentences are now up: offenders who are released from prisons.

It is not an inconsequential issue, particularly in terms of numbers.

About 15,000 men and women return to society every year from Louisiana’s prison system and those who do the time are very likely to be “without any skills or training to ensure they have viable options and do not re-offend,” according to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.

There is significance that LABI, one of Louisiana’s voices of institutional conservatives, is concerned about what is called “reentry” of prisoners.

The business lobby called for “education and training partnerships to facilitate a successful transition into the economy and the community,” according to a recent policy statement. “A key component of this approach will provide employers the protection and comfort they need to fully utilize this population of workers.”

If LABI is a conservative voice, Mayor Mitch Landrieu is a prominent Democrat, and he sees the same issues for New Orleans. In December, he unveiled a “comprehensive workforce re-entry initiative” focusing on providing the skills for those getting out to have a chance in society.

Partially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the initiative aims to coordinate the services available to ex-offenders. These may be obvious, in the sense of people who’ve been in jail need job counseling or help getting settled, but might also include drug abuse counseling or some other expensive intervention.

Those might be far cheaper than the cost to the taxpayer of a former inmate who backslides into another sentence, but those treatment programs are often full; a state parole officer might have many ex-inmates on his case loads who could use such intervention and can’t now get it.

We welcome the initiatives of LABI, the mayor and others interested in this issue, and particularly the bipartisan impetus to achieve results. There is a growing concern in conservative politics, in Texas and other states, about the rising costs of prisons socially and economically.

In Louisiana, the Pelican Institute for Public Policy has been pushing the ideas that include effective re-entry into society.

The influence of Christian conservatives in prison reform is also an element in this discussion. “The idea that we lock people up, throw them away and never give them a chance of redemption is not what America is about,” Gov. Rick Perry of Texas told the recent national conservative conference in Baltimore. “Being able to give someone a second chance is very important.”

But also necessary in this growing discussion, as Landrieu’s initiative shows, is the effectiveness of the second chance. Pulling together the resources of church and state to achieve redemption that sticks makes this cost-effective in this world, as well as creditworthy in the next.