Today’s Solutions: January 17, 2022

Recidivism is a term that describes the tendency of previously incarcerated individuals to become reincarcerated一and it’s a huge problem in the US. America’s justice system is notoriously problematic, with criticisms ranging from a fundamental disagreement on what should be illegal to how severe the consequences should be. One of the centerpieces of the debate is the question of how to get people out of jail and help them stay out.

A set of principles known as ‘Swift, Certain, and Fair’ offers several innovations and solutions that will help individuals who get out of jail. The program, developed by local governments, academics, and nonprofits, emphasizes a quick and reasonable response to parole offenses, and the minimization of unnecessary bureaucratic practices.

For example, under the current system, parolees who violate the terms of their release may need to wait up to months before appearing at a parole hearing. Proponents of the new principles suggest that this system一which punishes individuals for offenses they committed months prior一makes little sense. They suggest a more dynamic setting, in which situations like a failed drug test or alcohol screening are met with immediate feedback and support in the form of counseling or rehab. The immediate feedback would be more useful to parolees throughout the remainder of their probationary period.

Another innovation is to partner parole officers with social workers and recovery specialists. Supporters of the new program cite the hesitancy of many individuals to be honest with figures in the justice system. Studies show that parolees are more open to sharing their struggles privately with a specialist, and that those who do are less likely to return to prison.

Overall, the program supports more frequent, moderate punishments for minor offenses such as self-reported relapses or failed drug tests一such as an automatic day in jail一as opposed to a passive approach that culminates in a return to prison.

In a pilot program in Hawaii, parolees who received these small retributions were shown to be 55 percent less likely to be arrested in connection with a new crime, 72 percent less likely to use drugs, and 53 percent less likely to have their probation revoked. In a subsequent trial of the program in New Jersey, the initiative was also shown to reduce overdoses.

At its core, Swift, Certain, and Fair operates on the belief that frequent check-ins, ample resources, and less punitive recovery-focused tactics are immensely beneficial for reducing the chance someone returns to prison.

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