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    letters | prisoners beset by challenges in the system

    Scant help in making their way outside system

    A special Suffolk Superior Court handles cases tainted following allegations of misdeeds at a state drug lab.
    Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff/file
    A special Suffolk Superior Court handles cases tainted following allegations of misdeeds at a state drug lab.

    Re “Freed amid scandal, they soon found trouble again” (Page A1, Aug. 25): While the article regarding defendants freed as a result of the Hinton drug lab scandal discusses some of the barriers to successful reentry faced by prisoners serving convictions for drug offenses, it is disappointing that it did not include a critical factor that contributes to recidivism: the lack of direly needed programming, treatment, and education inside of prison.

    Even though more than 80 percent of prisoners entering custody report substance-abuse issues, on top of having criminal records that bar them from many jobs and from living with their families in public housing, the state system only devotes about 2 percent of its budget to all programming, including drug treatment, job training, education, and reentry.

    It is not uncommon to have 9,000 names on wait lists for any type of programming in the state system, which typically houses more than 11,000 prisoners. Prisoners can serve a decade or more without getting access to critical drug treatment.

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    Add to the mix the fact that between 25 and 50 percent of prisoners suffer from mental illness, and it is no wonder that reentry is an extremely difficult effort at which some will fail.

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    Rather than looking at former prisoners as evil creatures eager to reoffend, it is time to look at them as a population with serious needs that are not being addressed inside prison walls.

    Leslie Walker

    Executive director

    Prisoners’ Legal Services

    Boston