JUNEAU — For Kevin Enloe, relapse and re-incarceration go hand in hand.
Since age 22, Enloe has been bouncing from prison to halfway house to freedom and then eventually back to prison, always due to his addiction to heroin.
“I’m at the point where I’m ready for a change,” said Enloe, who is now 35 and served time for felony theft and drug possession. “My whole jail career is because of drugs.”
A resident of Glacier Manor halfway house in Juneau, Enloe enrolled in an intensive rehabilitation program for his addiction last December, shortly after being arrested and charged with felony theft for stealing an iPad from a Walmart. He pleaded not guilty and will go to trial in late March.
Repeat offenders like Enloe are common in Alaska, ranked 47th nationally in population but 11th in the rate of its prison population growth. Two out of three parolees are re-incarcerated at some point, most in their first year of release, according to the state’s Department of Corrections.
The Alaska Five-Year Prisoner Reentry Strategic Plan, a multi-agency report to be released at the end of the month, will lay out recommendations for dropping recidivism, mostly by addressing the wide range of obstacles facing parolees upon release.
“If the state is really serious about dropping recidivism, it needs a plan,” said Carmen Gutierrez, Deputy Commissioner of Prison Rehabilitation and Re-Entry and one of the report’s authors.
Moreover, Gutierrez said the plan is a necessity to receive money through the federal Second Chance Act, which provides funding to state and non-profit agencies that work to curb recidivism.
Keeping parolees out of jail is swiftly becoming an issue of economic necessity. In a report presented to the state House Judiciary Committee, Gutierrez said the current incarcerated population of 5,602 is expected to double by 2030, which would require the state to build a financially unviable number of new prisons to handle the growth.
But the recommendations indicate that curbing recidivism is as much about societal reform as political reform.
Felons, who often find many housing opportunities closed to them because of their background, receive particular attention in the plan, which calls for an increase in subsidized housing programs, as well as a dialogue between landlords and agencies dealing with prisoner re-entry aimed at opening up housing options to ex-prisoners.
The recommendations also address those convicted of sex crimes, suggesting an expansion of housing options and treatment services for these offenders, who often struggle to find jobs due to the nature of their convictions.
Housing is of particular concern because many parolees’ first stop after release is a homeless shelter, said Melissa Abrami, a coordinator for non-profit Nine Star Education and Employment Services.
Most parolees are re-incarcerated for technical violations, such as a positive drug test or a missed appointment with a parole officer, violations that Abrami said could be prevented through better employment and housing opportunities for the newly released.
“They slowly lose hope and encouragement, do a technical violation, and go back to prison,” Abrami said. “Some stress that it’s easier to be in jail than trying to find work.”
Ron Everett, associate professor of justice at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said another way to stymie the growth of prisons to is reform sentencing guidelines and punish non-violent offenders with home confinement or another rehabilitative option instead of incarceration.
“We need to reserve prison for the extremely small percentage that really needs to be there,” particularly violent offenders that present a danger to the public, Everett said.
During his incarceration, Enloe said he was lucky enough to work in a machine shop with a general contractor, who introduced him to the electrician trade, which he has been pursuing for the last year and a half. This sort of vocational training, which Enloe said was not being emphasized enough by corrections authorities, was an effective way to keep ex-offenders away from prison.
“In prison you’re basically thrown into criminal school,” Enloe said. “You need vocational training. I think that would cut down recidivism.”