More than 4,000 offenders re-enter the Kansas City metropolitan area every year from jail and prison, with little hope of finding housing, food or meaningful employment on their own. Within five years, over half could return to incarceration, where taxpayers will pay over $20,000 a year for each prisoner.
In 2008, I was president of the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission. Along with William H. Dunn Sr., chair emeritus of the JE Dunn Company and fellow commission board member, I realized that this cycle of release and re-entry was an ongoing public safety problem. And so Bill and I brought it to the attention of our fellow commissioners.
Although the commission had historically concentrated its efforts on apprehending criminals through its successful Crime Stoppers TIPS hotline program, the concept and possibilities of the Second Chance program became my focus as board president.
With initial funding of $300,000 from Bill’s Dunn Family Foundation, Second Chance was established that year under the direction of a community advisory board, chaired by Bill and vice-chaired by myself. In the nearly 10 years since its founding, Second Chance has dramatically reduced the recidivism rate for men and women who voluntarily participate in the program and are considered high risk for returning to prison — but who also have a strong desire for tools that can help them change their lives. If it were not for Bill’s generosity and willingness to take action, the potential of having a lot more crime victims in our community could have become a reality.
The national rate of offender recidivism is now as high as 67 percent within three years, according to the National Institute of Justice. It can be even higher for those assessed as high risk to return to custody.
The Kansas City area experiences similar recidivism rates, but Second Chance is a shining counter-example. Just over the past five years, Second Chance has provided intensive case management addressing the immediate needs of employment, housing and transportation barriers for more than 1,000 people returning to the community. Fewer than 6 percent returned to custody while in the program.
Second Chance also boasts a 70 percent employment rate among its participants. Outside of the program’s case management services, Second Chance has provided community referrals and re-entry resources to an additional 6,000 who have returned to our community from incarceration.
According to Rick Armstrong, Kansas City Crime Commission president and former Kansas City, Kan., chief of police, the Second Chance program is now a big part of the far-reaching focus that the commission operates to power a safer, better community for greater Kansas City.
Since the Dunn Family Foundation’s 2008 gift, the program has supported its services through private donations, public and private grants and state tax credit programs for individual donors. In January of this year, the foundation issued a $60,000 challenge grant to underwrite the expansion of Second Chance. The crime commission is seeking matching donations. Missouri tax credits of 50 percent are available to some contributors.
It is a fact that without a proper support mechanism, many offenders will return to a life of crime and re-enter an already severely overcrowded justice system. If we can provide the support to keep them productive, gainfully employed and out of prison, everyone wins.
Every Kansas Citian, on both sides of the state line, has a stake in Second Chance. Learn more at www.kc-crime.org and support its efforts.
Carl DiCapo served on the board of the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission from 1997 to 2011, including two years as its chair.