Yesterday, the AJC published an op-ed piece by Newt Gingrich on 'Cutting Recisivism Saves Money and Lives'. Here is our response:
To the Editor:
As Chair of the Georgia Justice Project Board of Directors, I read with interest the guest column by Newt Gingrich and Mark Earley, Cutting Recidivism Saves Money and Lives. I found myself saying “Yes!” I admire the work being done by Prison Fellowship, and agree whole-heartedly that a holistic, relationship-based approach is essential to ensuring that those coming out of jail or prison are successful in changing their lives.
I believe, though, that the work can and should start even earlier. We can make the biggest difference if we begin these supportive relationships as soon as someone is accused of a crime. This is when folks have the most at stake. This is when their efforts to change their lives can keep them out of prison, or shorten the time that they are in prison.
For nearly 25 years, Georgia Justice Project – an unlikely mix of lawyers, social workers, and a landscaping company - has been defending people accused of crimes, and, win or lose, standing with them as they rebuild their lives. And, our approach of early engagement is working. Last year, only 7% of GJP clients spent additional time in jail or prison after their legal case was resolved. And, GJP’s recidivism rate is a remarkable 17% - less than one-third the national average.
Poverty, unemployment, and crime are inextricably linked in our culture and, together, contribute to high recidivism rates. Long-term relationships that hold people accountable for their actions and yet help make personal transformation possible are the only way to break this cycle.
The Prison Fellowship is doing good work and we look forward to the Out4Life partnership. We can make an even bigger difference, though if the hand we hold out is visible as soon as someone feels themselves falling.
The Rev. George M. Maxwell, Jr.
Chair of the Board of Directors
The Georgia Justice Project