Barriers to Reentry for the Formerly Incarcerated
Today a criminal freed from prison has scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a freed slave or a black person living “free” in Mississippi at the height of Jim Crow. The “whites only” signs may be gone, but new signs have gone up – notices placed in job applications, rental agreements loan applications, forms for welfare benefits, school applications, and petitions for licenses, informing the general public that “felons” are not wanted here. A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind – discrimination in employment, housing, education public benefits and jury service. Commentators liken the prison label to “the mark of Cain” and characterize the perpetual nature of the sanction as “internal exile.” These restrictions amount to a form of “civic death” and send the equivocal message that “they” are no longer part of “us.”
~Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow.
Ex-offenders face many barriers to re-entry upon their release. Many ex-offenders encounter severe difficulty in finding a job that will hire them. When they do, it’s often low-wage with diminished opportunity for advancement. Occupational licensing is also a major hurdle, as many states make it very difficult to acquire a license for a variety of working class professions, including: barbers, beauticians, nail technicians, security guards, athletic trainers, or operate to a dance studio. Moreover, the over-whelming majority of states bar ex-felons from receiving federally-funded public assistance, food stamps, and public housing. HUD has documented rampant discrimination on the part of landlords against ex-offenders. Inadequate job, educational, skills, and vocational-tech training, substance abuse treatment, and mental health treatment in the prison, probation, and parole systems are a major barrier, as well.
Lack of opportunities to meaningfully re-enter society increase the likelihood than an individual will reoffend and end up back in jail. Research by the Indiana Department of Correction found that unemployment was the greatest predictor of recidivism, with unemployed offenders being more than twice as likely to reoffend than those with a job.
According to a study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC), nearly half of all individuals released from federal prisons are rearrested within eight years of their release, and around half of those rearrested are sent back to jail. The same study found that individuals younger than 21 who are released from federal prison are rearrested at the highest rates of any age group. Individuals who did not complete high school were rearrested at the highest rate—60.4 percent—while those who had a college degree were rearrested at a rate of 19.1 percent.
Part of the solution is the “Ban the Box” campaign many states are beginning to adopt. Second, states like New Jersey provide a “Work Opportunity Tax Credit” incentivizing employers to hiring ex-offenders. A third part is removing barriers to ex-offender entrepreneurship.
Prepared by Candice S. Petty, Esq. for 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center © 2018
1. Safer Foundation is one of the nation’s largest nonprofit providers of services designed exclusively for people with criminal records. Safer focuses on helping their clients secure and maintain jobs through evidence-based programs that are geared toward addressing barriers to employment and providing services that support their clients’ reentry efforts.
2. Prison Fellowship is an organization that seeks to restore those affected by crime and incarceration by introducing prisoners, victims, and their families to a new hope available through Jesus Christ. They equip wardens, prison staff, and volunteers, including men and women serving time, to create safer, more rehabilitative prisons that prepare prisoners to return to their communities as good neighbors.
3. The Anti-Recidivism Coalition provides a support network for formerly incarcerated young men and women, and advocates for fairer criminal justice policies. ARC provides its membership with mentorship, mental health services, supportive housing, access to jobs and education, and opportunities to advocate for criminal justice reform.
4. A New Way of Life Reentry Project provides housing, case management, pro bono legal services, support services and leadership development to formerly incarcerated women in South Central Los Angeles, facilitating a successful transition back to community life. A New Way of Life also works to restore the civil rights of formerly incarcerated people.