CHICAGO (CBS) — A large chunk of crime in Illinois is committed by people who have served time behind bars before, and a new program is trying to curb the costly and recurring problem of recidivism.
It’s not uncommon for wires to get crossed when talking about people who’ve been to prison. They’re cut off from opportunities, and written off as bad guys.
Hasan Smith is an exception.
“Once upon a time, I was one of the guys that was in the streets,” he said. “I was locked up for 27 years.”
Now a licensed contractor, Smith is grateful for an immediate embrace from organizers at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network. He’s the first graduate of their Green ReEntry program, which helps recently released prisoners get housing and work experience by rehabbing homes.
“It’s like I’ve been here all my life,” he said. “This is your future if you want it.”
But life could have gone a much different way. Approximately 37 percent of convicts nationwide are back behind bars within three years of their release, according to Pew Trusts.
In Illinois, the recidivism rate is higher: 43 percent, according to the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.
Members also recently calculated the cost of an arrest, prosecution, and incarceration; which adds up to nearly $151,000 for just one criminal relapse. Approximately $50,000 of that comes out of taxpayers’ pockets.
Recidivism is estimated to be a $13 billion problem in Illinois over the next five years.
Smith said the Green ReEntry program teaches formerly incarcerated people skills in construction work; including electrical repairs, carpentry, heating and air conditioning, and more.
“We try to bring them in the program, and give them an option,” she said.
The program has strict rules for participation. Structure helps the men in the program stay on track. So does a holistic approach; including therapy sessions, and arts programming.
“We might have to pull somebody aside, and say, ‘What’s going on today? How you feeling?’” Smith said.
As an alum, and now a teacher, Smith understands the struggles that might come with freedom for fellow formerly incarcerated people.
The Inner-City Muslim Action Network is launching a new outreach program next week. The team will try to develop relationships with West Englewood residents they feel are at risk for crime, as well as victims of violence.