“Re-entry to What?”
Page Length: 4-7 pages (excluding citations)
Exposition: As you may have gleaned from the title of Dr. Hallett’s article,
“Reentry to What?,” he’s been skeptical of the claims made for “on the ground”
reentry programs, which have been all-the-symbolic rage over the decade or so.
(That’s visible, for example, in the Heritage Foundation’s videos on the CCA
[Corrections Corporation of America sponsorship of the MOV non-profit, at their
for-profit prisons] where work is declared, over-and-over-and-over again to be
holy and the answer to all of life’s complex problems).
With plenty of evidence, Dr. Hallett’s argument is that these felons and ex-felons,
by-and-large, end up a “surplus labor,” in the disposable, unskilled job market,
unable to make enough, if they even get a job, to lift themselves out of the
conditions that were so endemically criminogenic. As it’s put on the HBO series,
The Wire, “the game is rigged.”
But there’s more: We’ve also “rigged” how we count (undercount) unemployment,
since the 1960s, in this country. The number we hear, each month, these days, is a
lower number, the so-called “U-3,” from calculations not used until relatively
recently. This page, on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows “alternative”
numbers using older assessments. Note that numbers derived from U-4, U-5 and
U-6 are ALL higher (so please note): http://188.8.131.52/lau/stalt11q2.htm
Note the wide discrepancy between the measurements, for the sample 2011 data
offered up by the BLS. Another link on this topic segment (from 2008) explains
some of the politics behind these changes, from JFK to the present day.
And then there’s this link, to recent 2013 Massachusetts data, listing all the towns
and cities (note the very wide discrepancy in unemployment rates, all at the
“official” rather than the “alternative” numbers) across Massachusetts. Some of
these rates (Amherst, Arlington, Cambridge) are low at four percent or less. Some
unemployment rates that are very high (such as Provincetown) are due to the
seasonal nature of their economy. Others, such as New Bedford, Fall River and
Springfield have been high, and remain high, regardless of the time of year:
Having lived in Fall River in 2008-09, and then in New Bedford between 2010
and July 2012, the feeling, as a resident walking around the streets, was the more
than 15 percent or so of the community was unemployed. Particularly in Fall River
(which I found to be particularly depressing), there was a palpable sense of an
enduring, weighty and continuous collapse of economic life. (A number of
prominent retail and industrial business closings in Fall River put a particular
emphasis on that). If we use the U-6 measure, which was closer to the measure
used during the Depression (rather than the U-3 “official unemployment”
measures of 15 and 14 percent for February 2013), we could easily peg
unemployment rates in Fall River and New Bedford at 20 percent or above.
So, on the one hand, it’s hard to find work, as an ex-felon, in these communities,
given those numbers. On the other hand, both areas have a greater stock of
affordable rental housing than almost any other part of the state with a significant
Why bring all of this up? It would be Dr. Hallett’s contention (and I know this
from past conversations with him) that all of the “rah-rah” around the redemptive
power of work disappears when either there is no paid work to be had (particularly
in the tertiary job sectors — carpentry, janitorial, house painting, construction,
which is what we saw, exclusively, in the MOV and Heritage Foundation videos),
or ex-felons are competing with those who have no records, for scarce jobs in that
Also, Dr. Hallett sees the Well of Good Intentions drying up underneath “a jobless
future,” in his discussion of the
1994 book of the same name, by Aronowitz and DiFazio.
In the midst of this (and more, including the historical [educational, human/social
capital, etc.] deficits), he calls for the re-theorization of prisoner reentry, beyond
the homilies of the Jericho Project (Heritage Foundation Video) and the feel-good
efforts of Liberals.
Where do we go from “Reentry To What?” to a Reentry that offers legitimate hope
for the reinvention of once- shattered lives?
What’s your take on Dr. Hallett’s contention? Please use facts and informed
opinion to make your argument.
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