According to the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy center, there are 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years.

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According to the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy center, there are 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years.

Recently, President Donald Trump announced his support for the “First Step Act,” a bipartisan criminal justice reform plan that would lead to a change in federal sentencing recommendations. Trump said the bill includes reasonable sentencing reforms and keeps dangerous and violent criminals off the streets.

The massive increase in men and women in prison came as the result of changes in law and policy, not necessarily changes in crime rates. In fact, crime rates have fallen as incarceration rates increased.

President Trump told supporters, "Redemption is at the heart of the American idea, and that’s what this is about.”

Reform intended to reduce prison population is needed at the back end — parole and probation — as much as at the front end — sentencing.

Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Williams, who has introduced legislation to reform probation, wrote in an op-ed for City and State, “Approximately one-third of all beds in state prisons are occupied by people who have violated the conditions of their probation.”

Reforming sentencing on a federal level will have little impact on the bigger problem — sentencing on a state and local level — of the 2.2 million prisoners in this country only about 181,000 are in federal prison.

When ex-offenders are released from prison their convictions make it extremely difficult to support themselves because of government-imposed barriers to successful reentry. Collateral impact on ex-offenders — license suspensions, housing restrictions, employment limitations — contribute to the difficulty offenders have in finding or keeping a job. Criminal records are easily available to potential employers, landlords and other members of the community.

Federal and state statutes prohibit certain types of employment for those convicted of a litany of offenses. Ex-offenders are statutorily prohibited from obtaining licenses for a number of occupations, according to the Urban Institute Reentry Roundtable.

Jobs requiring contact with children, some healthcare occupations and security firms are out-of-reach of ex-offenders. Many employers are simply reluctant to hire ex-offenders to positions that require handling money, merchandise, or where there is limited ability to monitor employee performance.

There are inherent obstacles for ex-offenders. Nearly 70 percent of all offenders are high school dropouts. In “Every Door Closed: Barriers Facing Parents with Criminal Records,” researchers found that about half of all offenders are “functionally illiterate.” Many offenders had limited, if any, employment history prior to incarceration and an absence of job skills.

A Texas study found that parolees who obtain employment spend more time crime-free in the community than unemployed parolees. The study further indicated that crime-free periods are indicative of positive behavioral changes that should be supplemented with clinical interventions to help offenders maintain the initial motivation associated with employment.

Probation and parole authorities should be focused on how to prepare newly released inmates for employment opportunities not previously available to them, and providing interventions to assist with job retention.

There are already some federal prohibitions against job discrimination regarding ex-felons. In 2009, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that screening out job applicants with a criminal record that would not affect their job performance is illegal because it has the effect of excluding minorities and males. Those groups have disproportionately higher conviction rates than the general population.

Shortening federal sentences may alleviate some federal prison crowding and may put some limits on draconian drug sentences, but what is going to be done to keep those who were in prison from returning?

Investing in prisoner education, vocational training and life skills are essential to success. Lifting barriers to employment, education and housing will reduce victimization, crime and prison population.

— Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.