Sunday, February 13, 2011

Prisoners and Buses and Bikes, Oh My!

Let's say you were convicted of a serious enough traffic infraction that you lost your license for a year and got 90 days in jail. Once released, how would you hold a job, assuming you do not have a support system to shuttle you to and from work? How would you shop for food or do any other activity that requires a location change? This essay will expound upon the idea that you cannot properly be rehabilitated back into society without also providing you with the ability to transport yourself to and from gainful employment without a car or driver's license.

To wit: It is in the People's interest that you be given instruction in use of public transit, and in the safe, proper and reliable use of a bicycle in any weather condition. Reliable here is defined as, no matter what the weather, you will reliably get to work on time, using the bike and bus.

To my way of understanding, not only are both modes needed, but additional topics come into play, such as how to use transit availability to choose a residence location, and advanced topics like grocery shopping while biking and/or busing. The recipient needs more than to be handed a bus schedule and maybe a second-hand bike. Bike mechanics should be part of it, from basic maintenance like patching a flat and oiling a chain, to more complex things like adjusting brakes and gears, and being properly fitted for a bike. To accomplish this, the releasee would be assigned a coach, who would work with him one-on-one, to help him learn to ride safely in traffic and at night, how to dress for the weather, how to use the bus racks, and pick routes that work best for cycling from A to B.

What would this cost? Speaking in round numbers, let's say that if it costs $100/day for the upkeep of a prisoner, then it would be worth it to the public purse to spring the guy a few days early, and put that money toward the first two months bus fare, and a decent second-hand bike that they would learn to fix themselves. If they participate in rehabilitating the bike, they would develop a sense of ownership they might not get if just handed a brand-new big-box-store bike that won't last a year.

So, again speaking in rough numbers, $200 pays two months bus fare. $300 buys him a Free Ride bike and lots of help. $300 more buys him necessary accessories like lights, fenders, a lock, a helmet, a backpack. At $100/day, that might spring the guy eight days sooner. What good does it do the prisoner, or society, to have him in there 90 full days, vs. 82 with eight days of bike fitting, repair, equipment, and on-road training, and learning how to get around via transit?

Given our current rates of recidivism and unemployment among the formerly incarcerated, in my opinion, doing this would be beneficial to society. Of course I cannot answer all questions in a 500-word essay, but I think I can raise the question.

1 comment:

  1. But wait there's more! If you believe (as some evidence suggests) that bicycling is safer when more people ride bikes, then giving the discharged prisoners bicycles is strategic in addition to cost-justified.