Prisons release over 650,000 ex-convicts per year according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics. For many of them, the hard part is just beginning. Two-thirds of those people will be arrested again within three years. Is it easier to go back to prison than to make an honest life after incarceration? Recidivism rates support that conclusion but it’s also evident that ex-convicts have trouble finding their way back into society. Securing jobs and housing and connecting or reconnecting with family and friends all present challenges. What can the criminal justice system and communities do to help these people get back on track?
One of the best ways to escape the world of menial low-paying jobs is to be able to get an education for a trade, skill, or career. If career counseling was an option during incarceration and after release, more people would have a chance to find a better life, especially if they could be encouraged to seek a job that will help others like in the medical field. For example, colleges that offer 2 year rn programs also offer the possibility of student aid to help pay for classes. Even though any job that allows a person to support themselves is suitable, competition is very high for unskilled positions to begin with before the issue of having been in prison comes to light.
Finding a place to live after release from prison is also a big problem. Many convicts lose touch with family members and friends while in prison, so going back home isn’t always a choice. Unless it’s possible for an ex-convict to go to a half-way house or transitional housing after release, house hunting is very difficult. Lack of money, resources, and transportation can all be issues. Just having the title of “ex-convict” can also make property owners hesitant to offer these people decent places to live. They often have to resort to using homeless shelters.
The idea that someone has been in prison makes some people immediately distrust them. Sometimes family and friends don’t continue to support the convict while in prison. Guilt, shame, anger, feelings of betrayal, and other emotions often never get the chance to be addressed, treated, and healed, so the family unit falls apart. Friends can grow distant for the same reasons. While that can take place while inside the prison, getting out of prison and having to face the community is also harrowing. Employers, property owners, and financial institutions are afraid to take the risks where ex-convicts are concerned.
The result of these issues means that ex-convicts might literally have nothing after being released from prison. It’s impossible to get an education for a good job while living in a homeless shelter, and no one can pay rent when there is no opportunity to earn a living. It isn’t any wonder that too many of them see returning to the prison system as their only way out.
Hope for the Future
People who have been to prison can decide to change their lives for the better. Not everyone wants to continue a life of crime but sometimes it’s the only alternative. If society and the criminal justice system could do more to help ex-convicts transition back into community life, recidivism rates could be reduced.