Over the past several years Oregon, like many other states, has seen a sharp growth in our prison population. Of the approximately 14,000 inmates in Department of Corrections (DOC) custody, 93 percent will someday be released after serving their sentences. This translates to the fact more men and women will re-enter society labeled as an "offender." Should a released person in custody re-offend, the result is immeasurable to the victims of recidivism. The results of recidivism are also substantial to taxpayers in additional system costs of law enforcement, the judicial system and corrections. The cost of incarceration alone is approximately $100,500 per inmate for an average custody of 39 months.
Persons in custody face many challenges upon release from prison. Ensuring to the greatest degree possible that offenders have the tools needed to be successful after release from custody serves a fundamental public safety interest for Oregon’s communities. Many of our local and state agencies share a common mission in protecting the public’s safety. DOC is challenged to identify ways to break down the barriers faced by those who are released from our custody so they have the opportunity to be productive members of society who do not return to criminal activity.
Governor Kulongoski made re-entry a priority and understood successful transition back into our communities is not solely a corrections issue. In May 2007, the Governor created the Re-entry Council through Executive Order 07-05 as a statewide leadership group to work collaboratively on improving the success and safety of incarceration to community transition. Early work of the Re-entry Council, its Steering Committee and work groups worked to identify and reduce barriers around employment, housing, and continuity of physical and mental health care, and helped establish pilot sites for ‘one stop’ Transition Centers where releasing persons could obtain assistance and guidance in navigating available services.
Currently, the Council continues to work collaboratively to identify and minimize barriers persons in custody experience while transitioning from incarceration. It is clear, both in Oregon and nationally unnecessary barriers to successful re-entry are many and some extend far beyond the boundaries of the criminal justice system.
The Council consists of State agency Directors, members of the Legislature, representatives from the Oregon Association of Community Corrections Directors, the Oregon State Sheriffs Association, the Oregon District Attorneys Association, the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, the Oregon Judicial Department, the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, social service providers that concentrate on re-entry transition and business leaders from the employment sector.
Late 2013, the Council restructured and renewed its focus to support seven re-entry areas of concern. Each have an Implementation Team comprised of stakeholders and partners from state, local, private, non-profit agencies and organizations, citizens and formerly incarcerated persons among others. The Teams are charged with exploring tools and supports necessary to positively impact and influence successful re-entry; identify barriers and recommend ways to overcome; improve cross-jurisdictional coordination and collaboration; and, identify and recommend a vision and strategies that lead to improved success for those re-entering the community post-incarceration.
Breaking down the barriers to successful re-entry is no small task. It will require the work of every Council member, Implementation Teams, and the agencies and organizations they represent. Aiding the re-entry population with transition is critical in our efforts to enhance community safety and reduce the risk of future victimization.