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What Can Other States Learn from Oregon’s Prison System?

Convict-Turned-Ph.D. Student Says Education is Just One Reason for Oregon's Low Recidivism Rate

America's "get tough on crime" movement has created the world's largest prison population, but is it working?

If the measure is recidivism rates, the answer is no. More than half of convicts released from prison are rearrested within a year and more than three-fourths have been arrested again within five years, according to a National Institute of Justice report.

"Tough on crime has been confused with tough on criminals," says Ralph Spinelli, a 74-year-old Ph.D. student at the Goldman School of Public Policy and criminal justice reform activist. " 'Tough on crime' requires us to develop programs that create jobs for people who are standing on the corner selling dope, robbing, or generally committing crime."

Spinelli is also an ex-convict who served time in the prison system with the nation's lowest rate of recidivism -- Oregon, and in a system with one of the highest, California. He details his experiences in a new book, "Prison as Punishment," (http://www.ralphspinelli.com/).

"The book demonstrates that post-incarceration education is the most comfortable, safest and most productive place [for convicts] to experience the transition from prison to citizen."

But educational opportunities are just one reason Oregon has a 22.8 percent recidivism rate compared to 43 percent for the nation as a whole and 57.8 percent for California – statistics from a Pew Center on the States study.

Spinelli, who works closely with the Oregon Department of Corrections, highlights other reasons for California's poor record and Oregon's comparative success.

In Oregon, prison is punishment; in California, prison is for punishment.



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