life after crime

The editor is on vacation, so I filled in one of the editorial slots this week.

Life After Crime and What to do About it
The question continues to haunt our nation: How to mete out well earned punishment on those who break the laws while enhancing their chances for succeeding in the real world after their sentence ends and keep the cost down for the state.

One prison system in one state has found one solution that works for the mothers of minor children. The innovative program, Drew House, is found in Brooklyn, New York.
All the women in the program live in an unmarked apartment building. Their crimes are felonies and involve drugs, weapons and/or violence. To be eligible the women must be homeless, have minor children and have pleaded guilty to a felony, according to the Associated Press story.

Without Drew House, the state has to find and pay for foster homes for the children as well as prison space for the mothers. According to Rita Simmer, the founder of Housing Plus Solutions, the nonprofit that runs the program, the cost for Dew House is $34,000 annually to house a woman and her children.

For women incarcerated in a traditional jail with her children in foster homes, the cost is nearly four times. At Drew House, the women attend parenting classes, job training and therapy with the goal of improving and changing their lives once they are released. The children go to school and receive medical care and tutoring while living in a stable, safe place with their mother.

During their stay, the women who qualify for the program and who work pay 30 percent of their income on rent and are taught how to pay bills such as rent – most of the women do not work because they receive state assistance for mental disabilities.

Without the program, the family relationships are put on hold while the women complete their sentence. Children suffer the loss of their mother and, far too frequently, they also must endure the unfortunate bouncing around between foster homes.

The women have an additional incentive to complete their court-ordered requirements. If they do, they may be eligible to have the charges dropped. When a woman’s time is served, not only is she free to leave, but the Drew House program makes sure that the families will not have to risk another spell of homelessness. She can stay at the House until she finds housing outside.

Drew House is just one program in one big city in the East. However, we think it is one big city program that could be replicated here in Arkansas and in Union County. A similar program could save the state money, improve a child’s life and provide a concentrated period of time to work at improving a family’s approach to life as well.