Prison Furloughs Can Lower Recidivism
American citizens have a vested interest in preparing offenders for successful re-entry into society. Those who leave prison without strong networks of support, without employment prospects, without a fundamental knowledge of the communities to which they will return, and without resources, stand a significantly higher chance of failure. When offenders revert to criminal activity upon release, they frequently do so because they lack hope of merging into society as accepted citizens. Furloughs can help prepare offenders for success.
Federal law provides wardens with the discretion to grant brief furloughs to prisoners once they have advanced to within two years of their scheduled release dates. Wardens who have presided over the prisons where I have been confined, however, were reluctant to exercise their discretion in granting furloughs to prisoners. Some refused to grant furloughs at all, while other were parsimonious in their willingness to provide prisoners with passes to reestablish community ties. Prison reforms should provide prisoners with objective paths they can pursue to earn their furlough privileges.
Not all people in prison are appropriate for furlough consideration. Obviously, society must isolate those who show patterns of preying upon victims. Yet administrators ought to encourage those offenders who demonstrate a commitment to reconcile with society and whose behavior shows that aspire to live as law-abiding citizens. Wardens should use the furlough program as a tool to shape such adjustments.
Rather than dispensing furlough passes in a miserly fashion, or refusing to grant furloughs at all, wardens ought to encourage qualifying prisoners to apply for furlough use so they can prepare to emerge from confinement successfully. Prisoners who want to enroll in local community colleges or vocational schools ought to have the privilege of daily furloughs so they can earn certifications or credentials that will help them find employment upon release. Those who can receive employment or who can provide services to local communities ought to have access to regular furloughs. Those who have family support ought to earn furloughs regularly so they can play a more active role in keeping their families together.
Prison administrators abuse their discretion by discouraging and minimizing use of the furlough program. Prisoners who advance to within two years of their release dates, and who have behaved in ways to warrant minimum-security classifications, ought to have access to strengthen community ties through access to regular furloughs. Those prisoners are confined in open prison camps and administrators have classified them as being nonthreatening to society. Since they will live in American communities, taxpayers have an interest in ensuring that they are well prepared to function as law-abiding citizens. As such, prison reforms ought to mandate expansion of the furlough program to offer qualified inmates opportunities to earn credentials, certifications, employment, and to strengthen community ties. These are the types of prison reforms necessary to lower recidivism rates.