Thursday, April 10, 2008

Re-Entry and the Political Scene

As I watch the political debates and the news about the candidates on both sides, I'm surprised not to see or hear mention of crime prevention as a part of anyone's campaign platform...even though our good senator from Arizona, John McCain, is an endorsor of our Re-Entry efforts. Why not? They all know that proper "re-entry" programs for released offenders is an essential component of crime reduction because the U.S. Congress just recently passed the Second Chance Act and sent it to the President...who introduced it to Congress last year. 

Perhaps no one wants to be seen supporting anything having to do with "being nice" to criminal offenders, lest they risk losing voters who might see them as being weak on criminals. Re-Entry is not about being "nice" to criminals. It's being smart about the causes of crime...repeat crime (recidivism) being the most significant...and taking intelligent action to re-direct criminal behavior. Coming out of prison is one of the hardest experiences in life. Even the best, most well prepared and educated former inmates find obstacles in their way that are almost impassable. Re-Entry programs are society's way of saying, "You've done your time, and if you want to live on the outside honorably and respectfully, we're willing to help you." Employers, educators and landlords to do that will tell you that the ones who succeed far outnumber the ones who don't. 

I am most impressed with the efforts of the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Re-Entry Intiatives (see, and the grassroots movement of re-entry programs across the U.S. as I mentioned in my prior blog. Few things are more important than us finding ways to help those who have erred in their past to get their feet on solid ground. Few people have greater incentive than those who have made mistakes and watched life and their families move on without them while they wasted in prison. Believe me, no matter what kind of prison or jail it was, they've paid a dear price that they keep on paying long after they are out. To read a good story about that, read my book. You can read some sample chapters and reviews at 

Don Kirchner
Point Roberts, WA

Monday, March 10, 2008

Re-Entry As a "Movement"

Barack Obama's "movement" in politics brings sharply to mind another movement that is now underway in America that is just as important and impactful on our future as a nation. That is the re-entry of released felons back into their communities, and how to better prepare them for release and, once out, to keep them from committing new crimes and going back...commonly referred to as "recidivism." So important to our survival as a society is this that nearly every state and many cabinet-level departments of the federal government have offices and departments dedicated to re-entry work. Even several large cities, where crime rates are highest, have recognized the need for more pro-active, preventive work in re-directing those who have done their time and who want to come back with a better attitude. 

In Philadelphia, Mayor Mike Nutter has recently established its own Office of Re-Entry and most appropriately designated a former felon, Ron Cuie, to head it. I applaud this effort on Mayor Nutter's part, and beyond him, the efforts of Pennsylvania's Senator Arlen Specter, who is pressing Congress for a bill to establish a $10,000 tax incentive for employers who hire former felons. This is exactly what is needed now to stem the tide of recidivism, which hovers somewhere between 70% to 80% across the nation. Giving former inmates a "second chance" by providing a means of making a living when they get out is essential. No matter how determined or even how well-educated a former offender may be when he or she is released from prison or jail, the outlook is very bleak. If there is no way for them to earn even bare subsistence to provide for the most basic, clothing, shelter and transportation...they will go back to the same elements and activities that got them into trouble in the first place. For most of them, it's inevitable.   

This is not rocket science. It is common and basic fundamentals of living. If you have a criminal record, no money in your pocket, and no one to extend a helping hand, any parole or probation officer will tell you that your chances of making it on the outside are nil. 

Most people would be shocked to learn how many men and women in prisons and jails really want to change, and how relatively simple it is for us to assist them in making that change. They've paid the price for their mistakes, and once they've established a clear shift in attitude and willingness to accept responsibility for themselves and their actions, they should be given a meaningful chance to re-build their lives. Any employer who has hired former felons will tell you that even though some don't make it, the ones who do far outweigh the ones who don't. In the words of a man who regularly hired newly-released felons for his bottled water company in Phoenix, Arizona, "They are among the most highly incentivized employees I've ever had."

There is ample evidence now to support this new direction in "corrections" work. A mere "willingness to understand" on the part of employers, corrections and justice department officials, and the public in general will result in measurable reduction of crime...and suffering...on both sides of the law. 

Friday, February 29, 2008

Incarceration Rate in U.S. Hits Highest Level Ever

The latest figures are out, and they indicate that the U.S. has just reached the one-in-every-100 mark for the ratio of the number of people locked up. That may not seem so significant, until you realize that there are close to 300 million Americans now. Do the math, and you'll see why this figure is so discomforting. The fact that it continues to increase and we can't build prisons fast enough to keep up with it should be alarming. Prison related industries make up the second or third highest item in the national budget. That wouldn't be so bad, necessarily, except that we're not "correcting" anyone, so all the money is going into something that is an extreme. 

You can read the report, which is easy to read and not at all confusing or complex to understand, at Once you've read this excellent piece of reporting, you'll have a better sense of why we're doing the work we do at the Return To Honor organization. We're not about making things easier or more comfortable for prisoners, but rather we're about working with those who have done their time honorably to help them get their feet on solid ground back in their communities. We're about raising awareness and understanding on the part of corporate employers, civic and religious and community leaders to help in the process of giving those want to change a second chance. 

If we don't do something to build "bridges" back for the many who can and will do the right thing if they feel that people back home care enough to give them even a modicum of caring and respect for having paid their "dues," we will only be paying that extremely high price for incarcerating them to have them go back and do it all over our continued cost. That price, sadly, comes in terms not just of dollars, but in more crime, more violence, loss of lives and more hardened, increasingly embittered criminals. Many...if not most...felons want to change. They just don't know how, or whom to trust or where to start. And they rarely have enough resources to last more than a few days back on their own. By diverting even a small fraction of that annual budget toward meaningful programs to help them prepare for release, and by extending a hand to those who want to change, we can make a huge difference in the bigger picture.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

A Matter Of Respect

In response to the two previous comments posted, I invite them as well as new readers to ongoing dialog about something very simple yet profound in this process I have come to call "a return to honor." This isn't just about former inmates. It's about all of us "returning" to a state of mind and heart that allows for changes to be made in the way things have come to be. It means returning to what made this country truly great, and what most of us secretly, if not openly, yearn for...which is people caring about one another again. It's a about its most basic and fundamental level. 

By respecting another person's point of view, or their right to exist on this planet as a human being, does not mean tolerating or condoning bad behavior. It means simply to treat them as you would have them treat you. If they've committed a crime, they deserve to be punished...but only according to the nature and seriousness of the crime. They need to feel the shock of being removed from society and left alone to consider their crimes...even to endure harsh punishment, if need be...but along the way, they also need to know that there is a way out. They must know that for them there is a way back to society, with honor, if they are willing to make changes. In order for them to make changes, most of them need to be educated and re-directed...and then welcomed back into their communities with a chance to give back to society in proportion to what they took from it. 

As I will write in succeeding blogs, that one thing...respecting one another...will do more to bring about measurable reduction in crime, nationwide, than any other thing. How we can accomplish that will be discussed later on, and is portrayed well in my book, A Matter Of Time, which you can review at our 

Don Kirchner

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

YOU Matter... the thought where change begins...

As we near the point of an "official" launch of something I set into motion over ten years ago, I feel it important to establish what this "Return To Honor" concept is all about. It's about people, essentially, and how to begin respecting one another even though we might not agree with each other about politics, culture, religion or other important things. What is important is that we at least make an effort to understand cultural differences, and causes of ill behavior rather than reacting to the outward symptoms.

What makes me an expert on the subject? I'm not...but for 2 1/2 years I was an inmate in the federal prison system where I learned first-hand the best...and worst...lessons in human behavior, from people on BOTH sides of the fences and walls. I discovered that freedom is not a physical thing, but is emotional and psychological. I learned more about personal freedom from long-time inmates than I ever learned on the outside...and I've observed more people in prisons of their own minds on the outside than I did those who were actually locked up in prisons and jails. I laughed harder, cried more and felt more deeply about common human frailties, avarice and heroism on the inside of prison walls and jail cells than I have anywhere else, before or since. 

The Return To Honor program was conceived at a time when my eyes, heart and mind first started to open to what really causes criminal behavior...and more importantly, what keeps it going...and its concept is simple but profound. With even a modicum of respect for one another, no matter what one's personal history may be, we can make a measurable difference in criminal behavior that will have a ripple effect on every strata of American...and even global...society. Crime doesn't happen because people are innately criminal. It happens because we don't address the causes of crime. Instead, we react to it out of fear, ignorance and indifference...and we inflame it with racial and social prejudice and favoritism. No matter how "fair" we might think ourselves to be as a nation, we have created a correctional system that is anything but fair. It's an incubator system where crime only begets more crime...and woe be it to anyone who enters it thinking otherwise. As individuals, some of us might make it through unscarred and untainted, but rarely "corrected." 

My comments and my views are not pointed at anyone in particular, nor as an outcry against "the system." It's what it is because we have allowed it to evolve the way it has. My respects to those who work in the justice, law enforcement and correctional systems. They have a horrendous job to do, which only gets harder and more complex as we continue to ignore the simplest approaches to human beings who have made mistakes. Some are incorrigible, granted. But the majority can and want to change. They just don't know how, where to begin or whom to trust. My contention––and it's been confirmed by many hundreds of people on both sides––is that we must be stern and resolute in correcting criminal behavior, but we must be willing to understand the causes and treat those. We do that with respect...and with common-sense approaches to creating bridges back "home" for those who have erred...many of whom never knew anything better.

In so doing, perhaps we can all "return to honor" as a nation of intelligent, compassionate people who take care of their own. With over two million men, women and children locked up somewhere in this country, every one of them someone's father, brother, mother, sister, aunt, uncle or cousin, they ARE "our own." Statistically, each one of them affects five to ten other people, so you can rest assured that any meaningful attempt to assist any of them in their successful return home WILL make a measurable difference for all of us.

More to come.

Don Kirchner