> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
BY AMANDA BEAM
In jails and prisons across Indiana, as the clock strikes midnight, men and women who have served their sentences walk from the confines of these locked doors to re-enter society.
Many swear they’ll never be back.
But don’t think these stories always have happy endings. From finding gainful employment to adjusting to long-forgotten freedoms, life can be tough after incarceration. It can be so difficult, in fact, that within three years of their release, half of these inmates will be convicted of another crime. When all is said and done, more than 25 percent will actually return to prison.
The United States has found itself a niche in the jailing business. Out of 100,000 citizens, roughly 700 are imprisoned at a given time, the highest rate of any country in the world. According to William Farrell, professor of criminal justice at Indiana University Southeast, incarcerating nonviolent offenders only exasperates the problem.
“The trend over the last 40 years or so has been get tough on crime, and the war on drugs is a part of that. The way this has manifested itself is in large-scale incarceration. We incarcerate five times as many people now as we did in 1980,” Farrell said.
Amazingly, the number of violent offenders imprisoned hasn’t changed in the last 30 years. In fact, it’s stayed the same. What has increased is the number of first-time, nonviolent drug users.
“That’s a problem because for these people, prison seems to make them worse. And we incarcerate them for very long periods of time with very little to do, which means when they get out, they’re still drug-dependent,” Farrell said. “But now they have two problems: they’re drug addicts and they’re ex-cons.”
Clark County Circuit Court Judge Dan Moore understands the difficulties those recently released from prison face. Despite his and probation officer Denise Poukish’s efforts to help former inmates adapt, the recidivism rates are troubling.