By Amaris Elliott-Engel
Of the Legal Staff
Law enforcement can't arrest its way out of crime, U.S. Attorney Zane D. Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said, even though he has spent his 22-year career investigating crimes, prosecuting cases and sending convicted criminals to prison.
Memeger, who was speaking last week on a panel held after the screening of a documentary that follows three men who have re-entered society after serving time in prison, said there has been a "shift in the Department of Justice to focus on prevention efforts and re-entry efforts," including because most ex-convicts are coming back.
"Andy A.," one of the men profiled in the film, Pull of Gravity, said “the pull of this lifestyle is really addictive. It’s as powerful as gambling and using. You don’t have to be an addict … who uses drugs. … the lifestyle is addictive, the hustling.”
Rebecca Vallas, an attorney with Community Legal Services who works on civil legal issues related to ex-offenders, said the pull is one side of the coin, but the other side of the coin is the barriers in place for ex-cons being able to do what they want to do with their lives.
One in three people in the United States has some kind of criminal conviction, but having such a conviction blocks them from employment, credit, public housing and private housing, Vallas said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who oversees one of the re-entry courts for federal prisoners that gives them the chance to leave prison early in exchange for getting jobs and getting other social services, said the program isn't to reduce recidivism but "to help people. We help rebuild their lives."
Andy A., who is participating in a lot of support groups for ex-cons, said not everyone who has done time in prison wants help, including those who have been court-ordered to attend such programming. The people who need help need to be identified, he said.
Jonathan Kaufman, co-director of the documentary, said many people who are coming out of prison have a lot of "invisible wounds" from trauma of being incarcerated, including post-traumatic stress disorder. They also might have had PTSD before they went into the system because of growing up in violent neighborhoods, Kaufman said.
The other co-director was El Sawyer, who also served time in prison.
Amaris Elliott-Engel can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AmarisTLI.