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Caring for the Ex-Con

President Bush has asked for $300 million to fund a four-year program to better help former prisoners reenter society productively.

His "reentry initiative" is aimed at the 600,000 prisoners who get out of jail each year. The program would expand job training and placement services, and provide temporary housing and mentoring.

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Plenty of research backs up his assertion that if prisoners "can't find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit crime and return to prison." In Florida, for instance, nearly half of 25,000 inmates released commit another crime within five years.

Adding to the urgency for such a program is the fact that the number of prisoners has gone from 139 per 100,000 residents in 1980 to 476 per 100,000 in 2002.

Mr. Bush's program would also pump money into the work of religious organizations that already help prisoners become part of a community.

One study has shown that a faith-based approach cuts recidivism. Graduates of one Iowa rehabilitation program, called InnerChange, were 50 percent less likely to be arrested, and 60 percent less likely to go back to jail than those who did not take the faith-based course.

States will have to carefully weigh separation of church and state issues before going forward. But programs that reduce the high incarceration rate are one crime-prevention method well worth the cost.