WARREN — It’s a great time for forward thinking and innovation in the Maine Department of Corrections. With the prison system facing drastic budget cutting and recidivism increasing, and with the national spotlight on the American correctional system, prisons in Maine must take center stage.

The criminal justice system here in Maine is not required to track prisoners to ensure they receive meaningful release consideration. Once someone is in prison, it is the responsibility of the state Corrections Department to detain and care for the prisoner: Unless instructed otherwise by an appropriate authority, the department will do so until the prisoner dies or is released.

The popular misconceptions are that everyone in prison is bad or incorrigible, and that all prisoners are the same.

For every 100 inmates, there is at least one who is legitimately ready to re-enter society. For every 2,000 inmates, there are 20,000 people who are affected by their absence, i.e., family members, relatives and friends. That is about 10 people per inmate.

As someone who has spent the past 29 years in the prison system, I can tell you that most people who enter it are salvageable and fairly good prospects for rehabilitation.

As one seasoned caseworker told me many years ago, “Only 10 percent of inmates are considered to be heartless thugs – the rest just made a serious mistake in their lives.”

There could be a lot gained from countries more advanced and mature than ours. We live in a relatively young country. In Western Europe, for example, there is much more openness to the possibility of transformation of those incarcerated. Crime rates and the rates of incarceration for all crimes are lower. There is a much broader understanding of human psychology as it relates to everyday practical life.

It seems impractical, uneconomical and counterproductive to invest a fortune in keeping someone in prison their entire life, rather than ultimately releasing him/her and getting a return to the taxpayer.

When any further incarceration only serves to outline the seriousness of the offense and no longer condemns it, then action should be taken to assess and determine whether that person can function as a value-driven asset in the community.

The public’s expectation should be that of correcting an offender rather than leaving that person in prison for the entire imposed sentence. As one prosecutor has made clear: “Sentencing is not a science.”

A reduction in recidivism without funding programs that open up the opportunity for an inmate to create alternatives to a criminal lifestyle is unrealistic. The revolution to change the prison culture must also come into play and become a priority in the correctional bureaucracy.

Recidivism not only creates new victims, but also is a huge burden on taxpayers. Achieving a reduction in recidivism must start upon entry into the system.

Systemwide, it should become a permanent part of the program structure to create an individualized re-entry plan that addresses education; employment (including resume preparation, job seeking and interviewing); health (including physical health, mental health and substance-abuse challenges); managing family conflict; mentoring; and strategies to develop pro-social behavior and avoidance of crime.

No one is more dangerous than criminals who have no incentive to straighten themselves out while in prison and who return to society without a transition plan.

The public stands to not only save millions of dollars by drastically reducing recidivism, but with each case of successful re-entry that can provide a safer community.

Prison officials must lead such a transformation and if recidivism is going to become the prime focus, prison officials must take an active role in reintegration and embrace it as policy, invigorating prisoners with a sense of continued life outside the system.

The get-tough-on-crime ideology may be politically popular, but in the real world it has not worked.

In order to take the right path, we must choose the right values and adopt the right perspective. After all, the goal should be that once a person has demonstrated significant change over a substantial period of time, he or she should receive prime consideration for release back into the community.