‘Overcrowded prisons, high cost of justice system are reaching crisis proportions’

Overcrowded prisons and the high cost of the justice system have reached crisis proportions across the nation, according to U.S. Attorney for the Districts of Guam and the CNMI Alicia Anne Garrido Limtiaco.

Limtiaco cited that in 2010 alone, the annual cost to maintain local, state, and federal prison systems amounted to approximately $80 billion.

Furthermore, Limtiaco said, the federal prison population grew by almost 800 percent over 30 years.

Limtiaco shared the data as she underscored the importance of reentry programs in her opening remarks at the 2nd Annual “One Community CNMI” Conference: Employment and Reentry—Connecting Employers and Their Employees with Government Opportunities held yesterday at Kanoa Resort Saipan’s Seaside Hall.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, in collaboration with Diverse Community Outreach Coalition, initiated the conference.

Limtiaco said national studies reported that well over 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons each year.

Of these over 600,000 individuals, she said, 40 percent of federal inmates and 60 percent of state prison inmates will re-offend within three years after leaving prison.

Limtiaco said ultimately, 95 percent of incarcerated individuals will be released back into the community.

Citing other studies, Limtiaco said more than 2 million youth are arrested each year and more than 61,000 juveniles were placed in custody on any given day in 2011.

She said it is not uncommon for re-arrest rates for youth returning from confinement to be as high as 75 percent within three years of their release.

“If the rate of recidivism of youth and adults can be reduced, even by only a few percentage points, the impact on society and our community can be profound,” Limtiaco pointed out.

She said the long-term impact of a criminal record prevents many motivated people from obtaining employment, housing, higher education, health care, and credit.

“These barriers affect returning individuals even if they have paid their debt to society, turned their lives around, and are unlikely to reoffend,” she said.

“If we can reduce recidivism by helping individuals return to productive, law-abiding lives, we will reduce crime across the country and in the CNMI, make the villages and neighborhoods that we live in safer, and ultimately, improve the overall quality of life for our families, friends and everyone in our community,” Limtiaco said.

She said supporting reentry and effective reentry programs—advancing policies and programs that enable men and women reentering to put their lives back on track so that they can and have the opportunity to contribute positively to society—promotes justice, fairness, and public safety.

“We as one community, must continue to work together to improve rehabilitation and reintegration opportunities,” she said.

Limtiaco said this can be done by reducing barriers to employment, increasing access to education and enrichment, expanding opportunities for justice-involved youth to serve their communities, increasing access to health care and public services.

Limtiaco said this can also be realized by increasing reentry service access to incarcerated parents and their families, and seeking increased private sector commitments to support reentry.

Limtiaco cited some federal resources available to help promote rehabilitation and reintegration.

The resources include Adult Reentry Education Grants, Arrests Guidance for Public and other HUD-Assisted Housing, Banning the Box in Federal Employment, TechHire: Expanding Tech Training and Jobs for Individuals with Criminal Records, Permanent Supportive Housing for the Reentry Population through Pay for Success, and Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program Awards to Support Public Housing Residents.

In the CNMI, Limtiaco said, the Department of Corrections supports reentry efforts by providing opportunities for inmates to learn trades and develop skills through the department’s collaborative work with the Northern Marianas Trades Institute and Northern Marianas College.

“There is still much work to be done and we invite you to join us in our ongoing efforts to provide sustainable prevention and reentry programs in our community,” she said.

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Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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