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Editorial: Home for Hope House? Neighborhood protection

Salisbury Planning Board members are wise to move cautiously in considering a proposed transitional housing facility for released inmates that would be located on Salisbury’s South Ellis Street.
There’s a lot at stake here. Most importantly, we’d argue, there’s the stability, safety and public perception of a neighborhood to consider. In weighing this project and its potential impact, city officials should use a variation of the physicians’ creed as a guideline: First, do no harm to any neighborhood ó and that should hold true regardless of the neighborhood’s income level or its relative crime rate. No matter whether Salisburians live on South Ellis or in the genteel heart of the historic district, they need to have faith that city officials will act in the best interests of the people they were chosen to serve ó i.e., the residents who live here, work here, pay taxes here and are trying to enhance their communities. Transitional housing for inmates shouldn’t take precedence over residents’ concerns about the transition of the surrounding area.
Of course, proponents say that the House of Hope won’t harm the neighborhood, and that brings us to what else is at stake: The lives of men who made mistakes but have paid their debt to society and are desperate for a second chance. The House of Hope would help give them that by providing a stable living environment, along with monitoring and mentoring. While opponents fear that some of these inmates will revert to crime once back on the street, corrections experts say that well-run transitional programs reduce recidivism by helping ex-inmates avoid the kind of environments that contributed to their downfall. Advocates of such faith-based programs include President Bush, who in a previous State of the Union address urged greater federal funding for them. “We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison,” he said. “… America is the land of the second chance, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”
The gates of prison are opening a lot these days. As a consequence of the nation’s historically high prison population, we face a corresponding glut in the number of freed inmates. More than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from state and federal prisons every year, and studies show that approximately two-thirds will likely be rearrested within three years. They struggle to find jobs, to find living quarters, to find places where a fresh start is possible. That’s a lot of hopelessness, a heavy weight of despair ó and bleak news for a corrections system struggling to cope with the revolving-door syndrome that spews them back into circumstances that offer little chance of redemption.
The House of Hope is a commendable endeavor, as even its opponents acknowledge. It represents a viable solution for reducing recidivism and, as a consequence, crime rates as well. It would be a wonderful thing ó and perhaps a minor miracle ó if further study and discussions persuaded residents to give the project a chance or produced a compromise they could live with. But it won’t instill much hope ó or bode well for the project’s chances of succeeding ó to force it on a neighborhood that doesn’t want it.

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