OPINION Once again, with their backs against the wall, Republicans are attempting to stave off political defeat in November by playing to Americans' fears about safety and security. Central to the conservative playbook for years has been the lie that progressives cannot keep our communities safe.
The reality is that the current, shortsighted approach to public safety, which touts punishment without rehabilitation, has been a failure. One of the starkest examples is the crisis in California's prison and parole system — and every day that crisis comes home to San Francisco. Thousands of people are being released from behind bars with no plans and few skills or opportunities. More than 1,500 parolees are living in San Francisco at any given time, and thousands more are being released from county jail every year. Of the estimated 125,000 California prisoners who will be released this year, three out of four will end up back in prison by 2009. California has the highest recidivism rate in the country.
Behind every rearrest is a new crime, often with a new victim. Taxpayers also foot the bill — to the tune of more than $34,000 a year for each person who ends up back in prison.
It's time for a change. We can no longer accept the fact that three out of four former prisoners will be back behind bars within three years. In this progressive city, we are committed to working together to break that cycle of recidivism by channeling former prisoners into productive lives. These programs must target the crucial process of what's called "reentry," the release of individuals from state prison or county jails back into their families and neighborhoods.
Two weeks ago, more than 200 reentry experts and service providers, along with government and criminal justice agencies, gathered for the city's first-ever Reentry Summit. This past year, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi sponsored a $1.2 million budget allocation to support new reentry programs. We've also spearheaded the San Francisco Reentry Coordinating Council, bringing together members from the business sector, labor, key city agencies, the clergy, and community organizations.
Members of the council have pioneered concrete reentry programs that are delivering results. District Attorney Kamala Harris has created a new accountability and workforce reentry initiative for drug offenders called Back on Track. Public Defender Jeff Adachi's Clean Slate program provides community-education services and programs to clear criminal records to nearly 2,500 people a year. Sheriff Mike Hennessey is poised to open the Women's Reentry Center, which will provide direct practical support services to women coming out of jail and prison.
While the city is more than doing its part at a local level to address this issue, we cannot do it alone. It is time for the state to own up to its responsibility for rehabilitating parolees and probationers and ensuring their successful return home. With a detailed, sustained, statewide reentry effort, we can guide former prisoners away from crime, reduce corrections costs, and keep our neighborhoods safe. SFBG
Kamala D. Harris, Jeff Adachi, Ross Mirkarimi, and Michael Hennessey
The writers are, respectively, the district attorney, public defender, District 5 supervisor, and sheriff of San Francisco.