Give ex-cons and prisons a break

Michael J. McCarthy, an activist and a freelance writer who spent time in a Colorado community corrections center, is a Chico transplant in Denver.

The job search begins like this: “I’m here to fill out an application for employment, but first may I use your telephone?” In a world full of cell phones this is an odd request. “I reside at a community corrections facility; I must call in from a land line for verification.”

More often than not the receptionist smiles and accommodates the request. If not, there’s the awkward dance of trying to call from a pay phone or the business next door.

This is part of the accountability and tracking method to assure community corrections center residents are not just roaming around getting into trouble. It’s worth the inconvenience.

Every day thousands of people are released from prison. Many are homeless, with only $200 gate money, and are expected to survive, to obey all laws. This is wishful thinking.

Community correction facilities give them a fighting chance to get a fresh start.

Presently, all of California’s community corrections houses are privately owned and for profit. There is not enough bed space for those who qualify—for every one accepted, six must be turned away.

Taxpayers bear the burden of this plight, both monetarily and in lost state programs.

The latest fiscal year’s budget earmarked $5.2 billion to the California Department of Corrections. This is nearly 7 percent of the entire state budget. It is projected that an additional $2 billion in new prison construction will be needed over the next five years.

Top elected officials realize that California cannot afford to fund prison expansion and fulfill its future growth objectives simultaneously. Every increase in corrections spending equates to less money for education, Medi-Cal, transportation, energy, and infrastructure improvements.

Having the state manage community corrections centers in conjunction with privately owned facilities is a prudent economic measure. The same bed that costs the state $30,000 a year could be bringing in $6,000 a year in rent were the offender living at a community correction facility. The state could convert many minimum-security state prisons, in part, into managed community housing for ex-offenders.

I found Chico businesses value ex-offender job applicants. Other California employers have been extremely cooperative and understanding, too. Not only are they patient in the verification and interview process, they have hired thousands of applicants.

Ninety-five percent of all state prisoners will be released someday. How they are released is up to California citizens: doomed for failure, or with every opportunity for success. If we could get the state involved in the operation of community corrections facilities, everyone would profit.