New way to help ex-inmates re-enter society & stay out of prison | Louise Wasilewski | TEDxPeachtree


Translator: Araminta Dutta
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven You’ve heard about mass incarceration, how the war on drugs
and mandatory minimums has contributed to the US incarcerating
five-hundred percent as many people as the rest of the world. Today, we’re going to look
at a related issue; what happens when all those people
are released from prison. Ninety-five percent,
pretty much everyone in prison, will be released. They will have paid their debt
and they’re coming back. Our criminal justice system
should be a system of rehabilitation. So, if it’s doing its job, you would expect that people
who get out, get jobs and stay out. But in fact, two-thirds of people
are reincarcerated within three years. It’s an expensive problem. If someone has served
a typical three-year sentence, that means you and I, as taxpayers, have invested $100,000
in their rehabilitation. But here’s what blew me away. One in five people walking into prison are going in for breaking the extra rules
of probation and parole; for doing things
that if you or I did them, wouldn’t be an offense. To be clear, these people
have not been convicted of a new offense. Technical violations are things like
missing a court date, a parole or therapy appointment,
not having a stable job or housing, not paying fines. In fact, I know of multiple cases
where people have been picked up because they were in hospital when they should have met
their parole officer. Speaking of hospitals, let’s compare
our criminal justice rehabilitation system to another rehabilitation system
we’re all familiar with – healthcare. This might not be an obvious comparison,
but bear with me for a moment. When my grandfather was released
from hospital after his hip replacement, he received medication, exercises,
had physiotherapy appointments each week, regular visits with his physician, somebody in the assisted living
facility cleaned his wound; there was this comprehensive plan to make sure that the time and money
invested in his surgery wasn’t wasted. Let’s compare that
to when someone gets out of prison. Imagine Michael, a young man picked up for a burglary
and found with OxyContin in his pocket. He serves his three years
and then he’s released with twenty-five bucks, a bus ticket,
and the clothes he stood up in. That’s it. The first thing Michael did was buy his first ice-cold
Coca-Cola in three years, and that tasted pretty darn good, and peanuts that had the taste of freedom
roasted right into them. He took the bus, and when he got off in Times Square,
he didn’t know what to do, surrounded by the hustle and bustle
and the noise and the crowds! I mean, like, where do you start? He was overwhelmed. All he knew was he had
to find a place to sleep and to get to his first parole
appointment in a couple of days. There is no comparison, is there? As I’ve traveled around the country,
listening to people who have gotten out, this word “overwhelmed”
comes up over and over again. You see, Michael had been
institutionalized. Almost every decision and every hour
of his day had been managed for him. And suddenly, in this
very fragile state of transition, he had a whole bunch of big,
important decisions to make and twenty-four extra
hours a day to manage, but his decision-making
muscle had atrophied. He just didn’t know where to start. As a condition of parole, Michael had to go
to a substance abuse group, see a counselor, he needed help from a housing counselor
to help him find a place to live, he needed help from a workforce counselor to find an employer willing to hire
someone with a felony conviction, and, of course, he had to go see
his parole officer and show up with all the paperwork to prove he’d been doing
the things he was supposed to do. If he didn’t satisfy those conditions, then the parole officer
can haul him before a judge, who can revoke his parole
and send him back to prison. That is why, one in five people
walk into prison, technical violations. Imagine you have a massive project, and the project manager has no tools, and he is the least organized
person on the team. It doesn’t matter how hard
everybody else is working; that project is not going to be a success. That role of project manager
is the role we have put Michael in. Let me show you what happens when the housing counselor
and the workforce counselor don’t talk because of privacy rules. They get Michael a place to live
on one side of town and a job on the other side of town
working the breakfast shift. The trouble is, transit isn’t that reliable
really early in the morning, so the second time Michael was late, he lost his job, which meant he couldn’t afford
to pay his counselor, nor could he pay his rent. So that pushed him back into homelessness and needing all those services
all over again. Of course, when he told
his parole officer that he lost his job, well, then she was really interested! And Michael? Well, Michael was … … overwhelmed. It doesn’t have to be like that. In healthcare, there is an approach
called patient-mediated exchange that allows a person
to get their own information, and once they have it,
they can give it to somebody else, including another professional,
like a healthcare worker. It’s called patient-mediate exchange
in the healthcare world, and in the criminal justice world, it didn’t have a name
because it wasn’t being done. So we decided to change that. I want to show you what happens
when everybody can work together. Michael can answer some simple questions
to help him find the services he needs and get connected with
a service provider in his community even before he is released from prison, so he knows what to do
as soon as he gets out, on that first day. He can build a plan, and his workforce
and housing counselors, substance abuse, can all contribute to that same plan that he can share back
with his parole officer. Michael can access this
on his own smartphone. He’s in control. And so, as he goes
to each of his appointments, he can, for example, take a photograph
of a job application and upload that, just like you and I
would take a photo of a receipt and submit it to our expense reports. He can actually physically
check-in at a location to demonstrate he did go
to that job interview. There’s a calendar, and that means
that all the different caseworkers know where Michael is supposed to be and when, so they don’t schedule things
on top of each other. It means Michael knows
when he’s supposed to be in court, solving the problem where the notice
is mailed to some previous address. Who knows where? And with a messaging function that allows everybody to talk together
about Michael’s case, with Michael in the middle
of the conversation, it is much easier to respond
to unexpected situations. So maybe workforce and housing
can now get Michael a job and a house
on the same side of town. And maybe, just maybe, the relationship between Michael
and his officer will get better with better communication. To be clear, we know that
coordinated case management, with sanctions for screwing up,
actually works. Works in terms of reducing recidivism,
and works in terms of reducing costs. The Washington State Institute for Public
Policy looked at this sort of situation, and they found, looking at savings to taxpayers
and to the participant, these programs save
about $15,000 per person. What we also found is that it looks like it works
for the individuals themselves. Here are some early results
from our jail reentry program that we’re working on here in Georgia. “I felt for the first time that there
were people who would really help me.” “I used the calendar, so I actually knew
what I was supposed to do.” “I got a promotion,
so now I can save up for a car.” “I wasn’t so overwhelmed
and knew what to do.” The technology is simply a way for the person to access the resources
that are already in the community, but it makes it possible
to manage reentry. It puts everyone on the same page, and it gives the individual
a beginning of a sense of control. Let’s go back to
the medical field for a moment. Healthcare has been adopting
patient-centered technology for quite a while now. There are dozens of apps for diabetes that put the doctor and the patient
on the same page. They guide the patient so that they aren’t so overwhelmed
in managing their condition, and they allow for better,
more timely interventions, which leads to better outcomes. Why would this kind of thing not work for people who have
even more things to manage and much higher consequences of failure? I don’t want to imply
that technology is the whole answer here. There is no easy button for reentry, and nothing will replace
the face-to-face interactions that help somebody like Michael transition from institutionalized thinking
to independent thinking. But if we are able to share information
in a way that respects Michael’s privacy, we ought to be able to see those same,
improved interventions and outcomes that we see in healthcare. What I’m talking about here
is self-sufficiency, and we speak about self-sufficiency as though it is about having
enough money to live on. But self-sufficiency is also
about making good decisions, about self-management. It is about making case management change from being
something done to a person, to something done with and by them. This is an incredibly expensive problem. It costs about $60 a day
to keep somebody in prison, and if you add that up
for all the people on technical violations in even a subset of states,
it is a billion-dollar-plus problem. This really is worth working on. What I’m talking about
is giving people like Michael a fighting chance
to make it on the outside, which benefits them and their families. It also helps parole officers,
who do an incredibly difficult job, with heavy caseloads
and very little recognition. Of course, it also helps us, as taxpayers
and as people living in the community. Thank you very much. (Applause) (Cheering)

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