Why Recidivism Rates are Dropping

Why Recidivism Rates are Dropping

Why Recidivism Rates are Dropping

In Georgia there has been a reduction in the rate of ex-offenders returning to prison. In the most recent report from the Georgia Department of Corrections, 25.3 percent of those released from all facilities (private, state, inmate boot camps, county, transition centers) in state FY 2018 were reconvicted for a felony after three years. That number dropped from 27.7 percent previously.  In the last few years, the growing number of ex-offenders returning to a life in prison has become a more widely recognized issue among policymakers and organizations. We believe the percentage is slowly dropping due to the Second Chance program, and organizations like GCO working to help ex-offenders find stable employment, and the elimination of policy barriers that keep this population from working. 

Even so, recidivism rates are still too high. Each number—each piece of data—is a person seeking direction and purpose to succeed and be self-sustaining. Not to mention, in a time when federal spending is high and inflation is growing, recidivism is a very costly issue for taxpayers. 

It’s a common misconception government assistance programs fill the gap for this population as they reenter society. The key to mitigating the usage of assistance programs and aid in breaking the cycle of poverty and crime for many is stable employment. This might sound elementary at first, but as we move deeper into this idea you’ll see it is common sense.  

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

 

  1. Jobs provide financial support

We all have bills to pay. A job provides a paycheck. However, let’s not get lost in the dollar signs. A job is more than a paycheck, too. A job is long-term financial security. Having a job allows people to plan for the future and set new life goals, essentially helping to define a person’s purpose. In a 2000 study by Christopher Uggen titled “Work as a Turning Point in the Life Course of Criminals: A Duration Model of Age, Employment, and Recidivism,” he found those over the age of 27 with a job were less likely to return to criminal activity. 

  1. Jobs provide purpose

Plain and simple, we all have the inherent need to be needed. Work allows each one of us to use our talents and gifts for positive impact. Fulfilling work allows us to play a part in a community, whether that is a community of coworkers or the actual community we live in. Every job, no matter how big or how small, has intrinsic value. A job helps us to develop daily structure, meet goals, and take our place within society. It’s not easy to go from being told when to eat and sleep to freedom. Jobs help create boundaries and play a part to keep our daily activities moving forward in a positive direction. 

In 2005, a study called  “Ex-Offender Employment Programs and Recidivism: A Meta-Analysis” found “having a legitimate job lessens the chances of reoffending following release from prison and that recidivism is less likely among those with higher wages and higher quality jobs.”

When people have a sense of purpose, they become more committed, responsible, creative thinkers. They become healthier and more passionate about serving in a way that helps others. 

 

  1. Jobs provide dignity

People generally obtain a large portion of their self-worth from their work. At the end of the day, no matter who we are we want to be treated with respect and equality. These are usually derived from our place of employment.

Without a job people are economically vulnerable to the cost of living and the economy’s fluctuation. Having a job and a sense of self-worth also helps reduce mental health issues among those who have spent time incarcerated. 

Those who end up in U.S. prisons are perhaps among the lowest skilled adults in society, and have a number of personal problems (health and behavioral) that render many of them difficult to employ.” 

Relationships with coworkers often provide the social structure and friendships needed for people to ease back into society and reduce the feeling of isolation.Through employment former inmates are able to receive the mental health and medical health support needed to integrate back into society in a dignified way. 

 

Wrapping up

GCO has dedicated much of its time and manpower to working with policymakers to reduce the barriers formerly incarcerated people face when looking for employment. To learn more about what we’re doing click here

 

 

Nicole’s story: How a raise meant losing food stamp benefits for this mom of four

Nicole’s story: How a raise meant losing food stamp benefits for this mom of four

Nicole’s story: How a raise meant losing food stamp benefits for this mom of four

correctional officer

Nicole had high hopes when she moved her family from a rural area in south Georgia to Henry County in the Atlanta metro. The cost of living went up, but the job opportunities were more plentiful and paid much better: She went from making $25,000 a year to over $35,000 as a corrections officer.

But that’s when Nicole got an unpleasant surprise. Her new salary level meant that her safety-net benefits from the government went entirely away—not reduced, but entirely eliminated. She ended up getting around a $10,000 raise but losing approximately $12,500 in benefits.

“I ended up getting kicked off social services because I made a couple dollars more than the max I could,” Nicole shared.

Nicole is 32 years-old and the single mother of four boys. “I’m the only income. I don’t get child support payments or anything else,” she said.

Losing her benefits—particularly food stamps—was a severe blow, especially during the pandemic. Although she has gotten help from local church-based food banks to help her make ends meet, her situation is still stressful.

To further bridge the gap, Nicole is working as much overtime as possible. But she would need to earn significantly more—to the tune of $25 an hour—in order to fully make up for the benefits she has lost. Even in an economy where wages are quickly rising for many workers, that raise level is a tough haul.

 

What needs to change?

Nicole encountered what we call the “benefit cliff,” where well-intentioned policies actually prevent people from getting off public services. They make just enough to lose their benefits, but not enough to make up for those lost benefits. The result is a system that keeps people trapped in poverty rather than one that propels them toward self-sufficiency and the dignity that comes with it.

While it is wonderful to see how the community has stepped up to help Nicole fill the gaps left from her losing access to food stamps, not everyone is so fortunate.

So, what’s the best pathway forward? Our goals should be to shore up the safety net for those who truly need it, eliminate these benefit cliffs, and create a system that encourages (rather than discourages) people from climbing the economic ladder. Along these lines, here are three possible ways forward:

 

  • The food stamp program could be fully redesigned to eliminate the benefit cliffs.

 

  • Separate pools of funds (from public, private, and charitable resources) could be set up as temporary stop-gap measures to get people like Nicole beyond the cliff.

 

  • Nicole could work with someone who understands the cliffs to help her strategize a career and pay progression to effectively jump over the cliff.

 

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

#DareToClimb media campaign

This is why the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) recently launched the #DareToClimb media campaign. The campaign is designed to raise awareness and share stories of those trapped in government assistance programs that, while well-intentioned, are structured in a way that often does more harm than good. GCO believes it is important to share the stories of these courageous men and women who have overcome obstacles in their lives to achieve self-sufficiency.

To learn more, follow the #DareToClimb hashtag.

** The $35,000 income limit is based on Nicole’s interview with us. Although our calculations show it will be somewhat higher, the impact and stress she is experiencing will be the same.

 

Q&A with Curtis and Tonika on their experience in the Elevate class

Q&A with Curtis and Tonika on their experience in the Elevate class

Q&A with Curtis and Tonika on their experience in the Elevate class

The COVID-19 pandemic has put stress and strain on peoples’ relationships like few other times. In this challenging environment, the Georgia Center for Opportunity has stepped up to be involved in a new series of relationship enrichment classes called Elevate for Couples.

Below is a Q&A with Curtis and Tonika, two graduates of the Elevate class who share their experiences and takeaways.

Q: Please introduce yourselves—your background, current work, and family life?

Tonika: We are a mixed family of five children. We’ve been married for two years in June and we dated for three and a half years. We met through a mutual friend, my son’s barber. When I met my husband, he had custody of his four children from a previous marriage. So he brought four to the team and I brought one. It took me a while to get over the whole shenanigans of the kids, but we were friends.

What won me over was just watching him with his children just take care of the spiritual, education, just everything. I watched him do this effortlessly. He has a heart of gold, because most people would run away.

For work, I’ve actually been a nurse practitioner for about two years. I’ve been a nurse for 16 years. We recently moved to the Atlanta area about almost two years ago now. We come from middle Georgia in Macon and Milledgeville.

Curtis: I did accounting for 15 years and then I transitioned about three years ago into chaplaincy. So I’m a chaplain for a hospice company here in Atlanta.

Q: Heading into the Elevate class, what were some of the most significant challenges and stressors in your relationship?

Curtis: For me, the biggest thing was striving to navigate through a blended family. I was hoping to gain some insights on how to navigate that in a healthy way. That was really, really important to me. The class did offer me some insights that I was able to extract. Marriage within itself is a challenge, coupled with children is another challenge. But in a blended family, they don’t teach you that in school.

Tonika and I are similar in our love for Christ, in our career aspirations, and things of that nature. But our biggest struggle is the blended family component when it comes to the children.

Q: What parts of the Elevate class did you find most useful?

Curtis: What was most useful for me was the opportunity to reflect upon myself—just the place and space that I am in as an individual. That matters a lot. Because at the end of the day, I have no control over what comes out of somebody else’s mouth or the actions that they choose to display. But I do have complete control over how I respond and the things I choose to do. So each session afforded me the opportunity to just reflect—what are my growing areas? What am I missing? What are my blind spots?

Q: Of the seven core relationship skills and qualities for success, which one did you find most impactful for your own relationship?

Tonika: For me it was “engage.” It’s easy to forget about engagement with a busy day-to-day life. For me, it helped remind me of what’s most important. You have to make it a priority or it’ll just be on the list.

Q: Overall, how did Elevate improve your relationship?

Curtis: It afforded me a better understanding of Tonika. Just pausing enough to even consider her perspective. I think that was big for me. I honestly try to do that and she’ll be the first one to tell you I get it wrong a lot. I can make my mind up about something really fast. I’m very flexible, I’m very optimistic. One of my excuses is that I don’t make excuses, I make adjustments. I make it work. That’s just how I’ve been raised. But I can’t automatically project that onto Tonika. I have done that in the past, and it’s 100% wrong of me. Now, I consider her thoughts, her framework, and her narrative.

Q: What are your future goals and plans?

Tonika: I want us to continue to build, to continue to grow, continue to understand each other. Just grow individually and collectively in marriage. Always seek to better ourselves and our marriage. There is no cap to that—we’ll never get it right all the time. You always need to be building upon that.

Curtis: Balance and then a healthy life. I definitely want to continue to see personal growth. I often tell my kids that the only person I’m in competition with is striving to be a better person than who I was yesterday. I also want balance. I’m at that place where everything can’t be a priority. A lot of things that used to matter to me don’t really matter anymore.

The Elevate program is being provided to couples across Georgia thanks to a federal grant received by the Fostering Relationship and Economic Enrichment Project (Project F.R.E.E.).

Project F.R.E.E. is a collaboration between the University of Georgia Extension System and community partners across Georgia. Our aim is to create communities where children are safe and thrive. To do this, our campus-community partnership initiative is mobilizing a network of organizations who connect, learn and collaborate to integrate healthy marriage and relationship education into existing community-based services across Georgia.

 

Taking Your Relationship To The Next Level!

Empower Yourself: Empower your relationship through empowering yourself
Lay the Foundation: Intentionally committing effort to lay the foundation for a lasting relationship
Enlighten: Sharing intimate information with your partner to enlighten each other about your relationship
Value: Value and respect the positive aspects of your partner and your relationship
Attach: Cultivating and maintaining friendship with your partner                                                                                                                   Tame: Cultivate strategies to manage your differences in healthy and safe ways                                                                                              Engage (and Wrap Up): Engaging social support, community ties, and sources of meaning

 

 

Education Disruption

Education Disruption

Education Disruption

middle school charter school

The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted many things here in America. As every parent knows, one of the major disruptions took place in the realm of education. News has been coming out that among the disruptions in education has been the number of parents choosing to homeschool their kids. Now, we’re not talking about the quasi-homeschooling that all kids experienced when their schools closed and all the kids went to Zoom School. We’re talking about folks who have decided to unenroll their students from public or private school and teach their children themselves, most using a curriculum and resources crafted for homeschooling.

In March, the Census Bureau released results of their Household Pulse Survey. The Survey said…

By fall, 11.1% of households with school-age children reported homeschooling (Sept. 30-Oct. 12). A clarification was added to the school enrollment question to make sure households were reporting true homeschooling rather than virtual learning through a public or private school.

That change represents an increase of 5.6 percentage points and a doubling of U.S. households that were homeschooling at the start of the 2020-2021 school year compared to the prior year. 

In Georgia, the Survey additionally reported that a staggering 16% of households were homeschooling last fall. This is also the number of African-American households homeschooling nationwide (up from 3% pre-pandemic!). It will be interesting to see if data for the 2021-2022 school year reflects a return to public and private schools as school buildings reopen, or if these parents decide to continue homeschooling.

The reasons people choose homeschooling vary. Joyce Burgess of the National Black Homeschool Association explains why some African-Americans are choosing to homeschool: 

They’re making these conclusions that peer pressure, they don’t have to be bothered with unnecessary racism, they don’t have to be bothered with bullying, they don’t have to be bothered with negative peer pressure. Some parents have chosen to bring their children home because the virtual setting, some parents just aren’t able to navigate that,” said Burgess.

A recent guest post in Bari Weiss’ Substack provides further insight to why some parents chose homeschooling 

When the covid lockdowns hit in March 2020 — in a matter of a few weeks, some 124,000 public and private schools with 55.1 million students shut down  American families suddenly had to adjust to school-via-screen.

The parents weren’t just upset about all the screen time their kids were logging. They were upset about what they saw on those screens. For the first time, millions of moms and dads could watch, in real time, their children’s teachers teaching.

It was a moment of “parent empowerment,” said Kerry McDonald, a senior fellow at the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education. That’s one way to put it. 

Here’s another: “My kindergartener was getting maybe twenty minutes of instruction per day,” said Pauline, a house cleaner in Durham, North Carolina, who prefers using only her middle name to stay anonymous. 

Pauline and her child lasted about two weeks in remote school before she decided it was a waste of everyone’s time. After a summer of lockdown, Pauline opted for a “homeschool co-op” with four other families. She was planning to send her now seven-year-old back to public school this year. “Being isolated made my kid miserable,” she said. “And I like public school. I was excited to send my kid there.”

The Delta variant, combined with her husband’s asthma, and the fact that there is no vaccine requirement for teachers in her district threw a wrench in that plan. What started as a short-term solution has morphed into a new normal. 

As my colleague Jamie Lord and I recently discussed, this demonstrates the real beauty of the concept of school choice: whether you want kids masked, or unmasked, have your school teach a certain curriculum or not, all parents, no matter their income status or location, should have choices in how and where their kid is educated.  

We at the Georgia Center for Opportunity will continue to fight for the right of all parents to choose the best method of educating their children. 

 

Taking it to the Next Level

Taking it to the Next Level

Taking it to the Next Level

 It was a rainy Thursday night in Georgia, but that didn’t stop couples from gathering for a night of food and fun, and strengthening couples and marriages in their relationships.  #ElevateCouples Pop-up Event was hosted by GCO’s Family team (formerly Healthy Families Initiative) as a time to emphasize the importance of romantic relationships and keeping them thriving. Over a meal, couples were engaged in a course appetizer for the Elevate: Taking Your Relationship To The Next Level! Workshop. 

Elevate is offered to Georgia couples free of charge (as part of a partnership with University of Georgia and Project F.R.E.E.) as a time to invest in their marriage and relationships. The course is an eight week commitment from couples to discover ways to elevate their relationship to the next level. The course is offered in-person and virtually, and during this time couples are not in counseling, but lead through exercises to learn how to manage stress inside and outside of their relationship, conflict resolution, dealing with differences, and most importantly finding ways to connect to each other. It’s designed for couples of all ages (18 years old and up) who are in committed relationships and/or married. 

The pop-up event allowed couples a VIP look at what the course has to offer and how they can benefit from it both emotionally and physically. The group was able to hear one of the facilitators talk about highlights of the program and the best part of the course which is seeing couples grow. It didn’t stop there; attendees also watched a recorded testimony from previous workshop participants who explained the teachings of Elevate, and how it had a ripple effect in their family. What they learned went beyond their own marriage, but allowed for a trickle down of knowledge and modeling behavior for their grandchildren to see an example of a healthy relationship. 

To learn more about how you and your honey can Elevate, click here