Members of the Senate Ways &Means Committee:
I’m Ari Kohn; founder and president of the Post-Prison Education Program, a non-profit organization that works to dramatically reduce recidivism by harnessing the power of education and meeting the legitimate needs of former prisoners. The Post-Prison Education Program provides access to education and unwavering support through wrap-around services including tuition, housing, groceries, daycare and intensive mentoring.
For the seven years we’ve existed, our non-profit has worked only with adult prisoners who have the most difficult cases: serious mental illness, addiction, and long lists of felony convictions are some of the issues we address. Yet, our recidivism rate is less than two percent. Ninety-eight percent of the adults we serve successfully transition into productive lives, often pursuing and finishing college degrees in the process. They succeed because we invest.
On the other hand, today the Department of Corrections lists a 46% re-admission rate. It’s almost comical; after talking in terms of “recidivism” since 1999 they have switched and now talk about “readmission.” Regardless of which term you use, the fact is for every two people who walk out of a Washington State prison today you can bet that one of them is going back (46%). The way we’ve overcome that statistic and found success is by investing in people.
We don’t care what it takes, we urge you to invest now, invest in these young kids today, because we know if you wait until adulthood to address the issues many prisoners struggle with, costs grow exponentially. Our program uses the small budget we have with maximum impact. We deliver the services and resources former prisoners need – including counseling, tutoring, tuition, daycare, books and software, in-patient care and basic life needs such as food and housing – because we know our investment will pay off in saved lives, reunited and strengthened families, generally with lives worth living.
The one thing we believe above all others in regard to these young kids is invest now – invest, invest, invest. It will pay off (even in the short term). I have noticed that people are taken aback by the costs associated with keeping more kids in school, but we have seen over and over again that the cost to implement a preventative infrastructure is nowhere near the tremendously high costs associated with helping adult prisoners attempt to successfully re-enter our communities.
In almost all cases we’ve found that if you invest in people they will respond positively and in a way that leads to saved families and safer communities. In closing, I can only emphasize to you that kicking kids out of school at the drop of the hat, as is being done throughout the state, is as far a cry from investing in somebody as you can get. If doing so is allowed to continue, we will all pay a very high price, and continue to see very sad results.