lecturn  CC-scholz-flickr A Letter From A Louisiana Judge

According to criminal justice sources, 95 percent of crime is committed by criminals who have already been to prison. Since those released from prison commit the vast majority of crimes and over 70 percent of those who go to prison become repeat offenders, it would seem that there would be a great deal of emphasis on reforming inmates while they are in prison.

There has always been much talk about rehabilitation, but there has been very little funding for educational or other rehabilitation programs in our prisons. How can we lower the recidivism rate without additional resources from the state?

Here’s how.

In 1986, I recommended to a self-help group of inmates at a Louisiana prison in DeQuincy that they start a Toastmasters club in the prison and I put them in touch with a local club. (*Toastmasters International is a non-profit organization made up of local clubs providing a safe and nurturing environment for members to foster the development of all types of communication skills, especially public speaking.)

I had determined, after three years of research, that inmates have very low self-esteem and very poor verbal skills and that people who do not like themselves and who cannot express themselves verbally resort to physical expression. They beat people up instead of talking out the problem with the other prisoners.

In 1990, an inmate from the prison club won the Louisiana State Toastmasters Speech Contest.

The really startling news, however, was that out of 60 inmate Toastmasters who had been released from prison from 1986-1991, not one had been re-arrested. Statistically, 70 percent should have been re-arrested within two years of release.

District Judge Robert Downing
19th Judicial District
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The Toastmaster magazine (January 1999)

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