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Review: `The Second Chance Club' is a compelling story

“The Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope After Prison,” Simon & Schuster, by Jason Hardy “The Second Chance Club: Hardship and Hope After Prison” by Jason Hardy is a compelling story of a parole officer’s work in New Orleans that emerges as a persuasive call to action on several fronts:

• Devoting more resources to social services for released offenders. It produces results, but the citizenry, and politicians, often equate public safety with incarceration. Rehab programs are seen as a social service that voters don’t grumble as much about if reduced.

• Insuring that offenders return to stable housing, one of the most reliable factors in getting a parolee back to a normal life. • Assisting offenders in getting a job that pays a living wage, another strong incentive to escape the drug trade.

• Recognizing that the drug trade infests poor neighborhoods where offenders typically return and that legally prescribed pills are the new gateways to heroin. For many offenders, the only life they ever have known centers on the drug culture. Hardy writes that generational addiction is so great, he is surprised when he finds that neither parent of an offender was an addict.

Hardy’s colleagues generally are a dedicated group, struggling to redeem lives against great odds – and knowing that we the people have rejected changes in our criminal-justice system that could significantly reduce the 25 percent rate of parolees and probationers who return to prison.

Americans leaving prison typically have no home to go to, no job and no health care. About 4.5 million men and women are on probation or parole, most woefully underserved because caseloads are so great. Providing adequate probation and parole services “remains the single greatest missed opportunity in the criminal justice system,” Hardy says. Social services, he notes, often require a gauntlet run that ex-offenders are least able to navigate.

Hardy seems remarkably attuned to the 200-plus people on his caseload. “Every hour on the job presented a new opportunity to reflect on my own privilege and the extent to which a person’s place of birth dictates his aspirations,” he writes, noting that for offenders, prison time could be akin to college for the middle class. A prison stay proved to drug trade leaders back home that you were trustworthy and didn’t fear the criminal justice system.

We can’t change those places of birth, but the book makes a solid case for devoting more resources to rehabbing the people consigned to returning there after incarceration. “Second Chance” also makes a clear case that added resources not only would reduce much more expensive prison stays but would also help quell the drug trade in America and efforts to conquer it.

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