Paul V. Coates--Confidential File
Harold Leader is not a man of few words.
Or minced words.
He is one of a group of persons who are planning, shortly, to start a house of ex-cons in Los Angeles.
And he has every belief that the house will be a credit to our community and may someday be the ignitive spark for a new national approach to the problem of criminal rehabilitation.
The idea for a house of ex-cons does not belong to Mr. Leader. It is, rather, the outgrowth of a study of rehabilitation problems by the American Friends Service Committee.
The study was stimulated by one shocking fact:
That 85% of the nation's prison inmates are repeaters.
I talked with Leader about the proposed house this week but before we really got into the plan, he made a few other beliefs of his quite clear.
"Today's penal systems," he told me, "are illogical and expensive.
"When a man commits a crime, it usually shows that he doesn't have the necessary personal qualities to cope with society."
The personal qualities which Leader enumerated were:
1--Pride in himself
2--Acceptance by others.
3--A feeling that his contributions are worthwhile.
And this, according to Leader, is what our penal system does to a human being:
"First, we convict him. Saying, in effect, 'You are no good.'
"Second, we remove him physically. Reject him.
"Third, we refuse to permit him to work competitively while in prison.
"And finally, the man is kicked out of a secure prison society and tossed back into the same society which he couldn't cope with in the first place."
Leader, a retired industrialist, told me that he has no pretensions that a "halfway house" for ex-convicts would solve all this.
"The plan of the Friends Society is merely to demonstrate that an ex-convict, given proper environment and monitorship, can readjust."
"How many ex-convicts would you take in?" I asked.
"Probably 10. With living quarters, that is. And each would stay for periods from 60 to 90 days. The first couple months are when most men, if they are going to repeat, do repeat."
"Because they walk out of prison into a very hostile atmosphere. They are ex-cons. They are rejected for credit, rejected for employment and rejected for social acceptance. Many of them, because of their original problems, exaggerate the hostility."
"How," I asked, "would a home such as you propose help them?"
"Primarily, by providing the environment in which human beings can grow. The club will merely be a vehicle through which they can exercise their positive ideas.
"It will, of course, provide a haven and place of relaxation where they can drop their defenses against society.
"It will be for them to use as they wish. Any organized efforts toward employment or public relations programs or the like must be started by the ex-convicts themselves."
I asked Leader if the club would be restricted to residents.
He said it would be open to all ex-convicts.
"Aren't many ex-convicts forbidden by parole regulations to associate with other ex-convicts?"
"The Friends Society has been working on the project for more than two years. The program was planned with encouragement and aid from top penal officials.
"They see the need and are 100% willing to go along with us. We've also cleared with local police."
"How about your prospective neighbors?" I asked.
"When we select a site we'll discuss the entire project with them."
"Won't the fact that 85% of our prison inmates are repeaters scare them?"
"It should," said Leader. "It should scare them into realizing that everyone wants to help the ex-convict go straight.
"Except," he added bitterly, "when they're asked to help."
Note: Harold Leader died Feb. 16, 1980.