My bill related to family re-entry programs for incarcerated parents, LB 483, passed on final reading today. It designates $500,000 to the Department of Corrections to establish a two-year pilot program to help children and families by teaching relationship and parenting skills.
When the legislative session began, I had no plans of introducing a bill that would fund programs in Nebraska’s correctional facilities. When the ideas found in LB 483 were presented to me, however, I became convinced that this bill is a very worthy and cost-effective measure.
Men and women who commit crimes should be punished. As a social worker, however, I can see the effects of separation on family members – especially the children. Children want to spend time with their parents. Many additional hardships are created for the remaining family members when a loved one is incarcerated. According to the 2008 Bureau of Justice Statistics Report, 90% of the children in foster care today are growing up without their biological fathers playing a role in their lives. Children who have incarcerated parents are six times more likely than other children to be incarcerated at some point in their lives.
Christian Heritage, a non-profit group, has developed a series of programs that are offered at Nebraska correctional facilities today. They received a federal grant in 2009 to create and offer programs that encourage parents to be involved in the lives of their spouses and children. Since these programs began, 407 inmates have completed the programs and reentered society. Only 31 of the 407 participants have re-offended, which is a rate of 7.6%. This number is much lower than the average 25% of general population inmates who are released, then commit crimes and return to the correctional system.
Successful programs, like the ones developed by Christian Heritage, help save taxpayer dollars. The Nebraska Department of Corrections estimates the average yearly cost of incarcerating one inmate is $28,179. Christian Heritage believes they have helped taxpayers save approximately $950,000 by lowering the recidivism rate of those who have participated in these programs.
Federal grant money is no longer available for these programs to continue in Nebraska. The bill would allow the Department of Corrections to either establish the programs on their own, or offer competitive bids allowing another entity to offer evidence-based programming and collect outcome data.
The Nebraska Department of Corrections has the following mission statement: “To serve and protect the public by providing control, humane care and program opportunities for those individuals placed in its custody and supervision, thereby facilitating their return to society as responsible persons.” LB 483 helps the Department of Corrections achieve their mission, saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the recidivism rate, and allows children and spouses to bond with family members.