When David E. Williams, a convicted felon, barricaded himself in a Capitol Heights home on Sept. 14, it once again highlighted a disturbing problem in Prince George’s County: What is being done with citizens re-entering society upon release from prison?

According to Prince George’s County Police, the standoff ended at about 7 a.m., Sept. 15, when Williams, 37, shot himself because he didn’t want to return to prison. Police had converged upon the house after its residents reported Williams for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend’s uncle.

Marisa Mauro, a blogger for Psychology Today, spent years working in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as a clinical psychologist. She says Williams may have felt there was nothing else to live for. “Oftentimes inmates or people, who believe they’ll be charged with something wrong, feel hopelessness and will therefore try to harm themselves,” Mauro said. “Sometimes, instead of going through that pain or bad situation, they’ll end up killing themselves.”

In Williams’ case, that hopelessness came from the 10 years he spent in prison for assault and battery, false imprisonment and bribery by intimidation for trying to intimidate a juror.

For Prince George’s County officials, the cycle that Williams and so many others repeat upon re-entering society is an issue that many want to address in a substantial way. A three-year study done by the Correctional Educational Association for the United States Department of Education Office of Correctional Education says without anything as small as an in-prison school, 55.7 percent of ex-convicts in Maryland will be re-arrested.

Angela Alsobrooks, who won the de facto General Election to become the county’s next state’s attorney, says reducing the recidivism rate will be one of her main goals. She says there are two ways to achieve this: One is by letting those already incarcerated know that crime will not be tolerated and will be rewarded with stiff penalties. The other is to step in with a plan to help rehabilitate felons before they return to society. “We have to work very hard at preventing people from getting into the criminal justice system in the first place,” Alsobrooks said. “That means that we’d offer really substantive intervention and prevention programs that would allow people to re-enter. Low-Level, nonviolent people ought to be provided a way to be a productive part of our community.”

Mauro says the mental health of ex-offenders play a big part in how they return to society. Maryland officials apparently agree as the county received a $300,000 grant from the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission to treat the mental health of ex-offenders. Mauro says from her experience, the aggressive therapy she was able to implement worked wonders.

“In the group, they were really able to learn a lot about themselves and others,” she said. “We were able to explore issues of morality and mental health issues and it was really good.”

The clinical psychologist said she’d like to see more attention paid to the problem, especially in urban areas such as the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, where recidivism is high.

“We’d provide a variety of treatments and intervention such as group therapy for a variety of mental health issues,” she said. “We’d also do social skills training, anger management and stress management to help them learn how to interact better in their environment.”

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO