InsiderAdvantage: Mayor Bottoms Deserves a ‘PAT3’ on the Back for Criminal Justice Reform

By Marc Hyden

According to The Root columnist Monique Judge, “Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is the coldest.” Judge came to her conclusion after Mayor Bottoms requested the resignations of all 35 City of Atlanta cabinet members in a single day.

Bottoms’ request is evidence that she is a no-nonsense administrator. But contrary to Judge’s hot-take, she’s actually not cold-blooded. In fact, it appears that she believes in second chances.

Her new criminal re-entry program, dubbed “Preparing Adult Offenders to Transition through Training and Therapy” (PAT³), speaks to her belief in redemption and new beginnings. It’s designed to reduce recidivism rates, improve public safety and foster closer family relations. The program isn’t perfect and certainly merits careful revisions. Still, it promises to aid Atlantans.

The PAT³ program is a partnership between the Department of Corrections, the Department of Watershed Management (DWM) and the Georgia Department of Corrections. PAT³ aims to help reintegrate into society incarcerated fathers who have Atlanta ties and 12-18 months of their sentences remaining. The program will not extend to sex offenders or those serving time for a violent offense.

PAT³ will help these fathers find work once they are released. Qualifying inmates who voluntarily opt into this program will undergo mandated job training. After they have received the proper education and experience, they will become certified employees and be provided jobs with DWM while they are incarcerated. Their earnings will be held in escrow until they are freed and transitioned into society. Upon their release, they will be given their earnings and encouraged to continue working for DWM.

To ensure a smooth reintegration, the Urban League of Greater Atlanta will provide these individuals with various forms of aid. These include financial management counseling, parenting classes, anger management counseling, substance-abuse prevention counseling and workforce-readiness counseling.

Mayor Bottoms’ rationale for the PAT3 program is multifaceted. For one, adult recidivism rates are shockingly high: Within a five-year period of their initial release, more than 75 percent of offenders across the country will be rearrested.

There are many reasons for this. First and foremost, it’s difficult for ex-offenders to find gainful employment. Because of their stints in prison, ex-offenders have gaps in their work history, which some hiring managers find unattractive. This handicap is compounded by the fact that the state doesn’t allow some offenders to obtain occupational licenses to work in certain fields. Meanwhile, other employers simply refuse to hire individuals who have been released from prison. This puts ex-inmates at an immediate disadvantage. Without the ability to make a living, many formerly-incarcerated individuals return to crime.

Second, many inmates either adopt counterproductive behavioral patterns while imprisoned, or their prison stays exacerbate preexisting psychological or behavioral issues. Without the appropriate help, they aren’t prepared to successfully reintegrate into society – meaning they very well may reoffend.

Considering that not long ago, 1 in 13 Georgians was under correctional supervision, there are an untold number of individuals who have behavioral issues and difficulties finding employment thanks to their prison stays and thus, risk recidivating. This obviously threatens public safety. Additionally, once they return to prison, reoffenders become a financial burden on the public. PAT3 should help alleviate these issues.

As someone whose father struggled with addiction and landed in jail, Mayor Bottoms realizes there are more than just public safety and financial impacts of incarceration. There are social effects, too. Children raised without an active father are more likely to face specific challenges, including a higher probability of engaging in criminal activity themselves. They are also more likely to face abuse, struggle in school, have poorer health, and experience difficulty in the job market. The mayor clearly designed PAT3 with these issues in mind.

PAT3 is promising, but it needs to be expanded. Nonviolent fathers aren’t the only ones at risk of recidivating – there are many violent offenders in prison who will eventually be released. Perhaps even more than nonviolent offenders, prisoners with a history of violence need counseling and aid with reintegrating into society and landing a job. PAT3 also ignores mothers’ roles in families. Certainly, motherless children suffer disadvantages, too. Thus, the program should be opened to mothers as well.

Finally, there need to be more jobs than just those at DWM. These openings may eventually reach capacity. Solely relying on DWM for these positions will also limit workers’ marketability, given that they will only have limited experience in a single industry.

PAT3 is promising as-is, but it could be even more promising if these alterations are made. That is the model that Atlanta – and other cities – should adopt if they are serious about investing in public safety, long-term criminal justice cost-savings and fortifying families.

Read the article in InsiderAdvantage here.

Jonathan Haggerty