Reentry Programs Benefit Prisoners and Societies Alike

By Morteza SahebkarAugust 17, 2021

Reentry Programs Benefit Prisoners and Societies Alike

Every year, more than 600,000 people make the complex transition from incarceration back into society. Release following incarceration can be an emotional (and often joyous) moment for incarcerated individuals and their loved ones. But it can also be daunting — especially for those who have been removed from society for a decade or more.

Formerly incarcerated people face challenges when it comes to finding employment, obtaining additional education, and maintaining sobriety and/or mental health. The best outcome for the prisoner, the prisoner’s loved ones, and society as a whole is to reduce recidivism rates by setting formerly incarcerated individuals up for success so they don’t return to prison. Unfortunately, about two-thirds of released prisoners will be arrested again within three years.

The good news is that reentry programs can be important elements for former prisoners to successfully enter society and gain stability. With support around employment, education, housing, and mental health, these programs might be able to reduce recidivism rates.

Challenges Prisoners Face When Reentering Society

The reality is that there’s a stigma around incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. Former prisoners face challenges at increased proportions compared to the rest of the population. These issues can make it that much more difficult to find steady employment, housing, and resources — all of which are important factors to living a productive, stable life in modern-day society. That’s why rehabilitation is so important in prisons.

Here are a few areas that impact formerly incarcerated individuals upon reentry:

• Employment: Unemployment rates for formerly incarcerated people are nearly five times higher than the general public. Even during the pandemic, when employment rates reached almost 15% for the public, formerly incarcerated people faced a 27% unemployment rate.

• Housing: More than 10% of prisoners are homeless before and after their incarcerations, yet 2% of the U.S. population is homeless. Housing instability is a contributing factor to arrest and incarceration, so finding stable housing can make a difference in an individual’s chances of returning to prison.

• Education: Lack of education and access to education often contribute to a person being more likely to be incarcerated. This doesn’t change when that individual is released. In fact, 25% of formerly incarcerated people do not have a high school degree — which is double the rate of the general population. Formerly incarcerated people are also more likely to obtain a GED, meaning they miss the benefits of a more typical educational environment. In addition, whereas 29% of the general public has a college degree, fewer than 4% of released prisoners do.

• Addiction: Addiction and mental health are two major factors that increase the likelihood of a person being arrested and imprisoned. Almost two-thirds of prisoners — 65% — have substance use disorders, compared to 8.5% of the rest of the population. Therefore, addiction services and improving mental health for inmates are key components of many prisoners’ successful reentry.

Although these challenges are daunting, many reentry programs are doing their part to help. With resources and support, formerly incarcerated individuals can build a sustainable life.

Successful Reentry Programs Start in Prisons

Today, facilities and programs are providing more key services to prisoners to help them successfully rejoin society upon their release. It’s important that facilities begin these services on the first day of a prisoner’s sentence.

There isn’t a ton of research to help facilities create a replicable model for sustainable reentry, but programs that have had success aim to provide participants with prevocational training, job placement, mentors, transitional housing, and access to education. The Council of State Governments Justice Center created a checklist that outlines the services correctional facilities can provide in successful reentry programs. Some of the top concerns include:

• Connection to loved ones and means of communicating with support systems.

• Access to food.

• Housing stability.

• Medical services and access to medical care.

• Mental health services, including suicide prevention.

• Substance use treatment, especially for opioids.

Facilities can provide these resources in myriad ways, and advancing technology has only increased the success of reentry programs. In some respects, the COVID-19 pandemic made access easier to many of these services with virtual appointments and meetings. However, that means prisoners who are just being released might have some catching up to do when it comes to digital literacy.

Increasing the amount of technology in prisons has been shown to be beneficial. Correctional facilities that provide inmates with greater access to technology (such as inmate tablets) can help their inmates bridge the education or digital literacy gap many will experience upon release. In addition, tablets can provide prisoners with connection to loved ones through video visitation for inmates and supplementary educational resources.

The ultimate goal of prison systems in the U.S. is to rehabilitate people so they can return to their loved ones and build a new life in society. There are a number of barriers to positive reentry, but facilities can provide services, resources, and tools to increase the chance of success. As the outside world continues to digitally transform, technology such as inmate tablets can go a long way in helping formerly incarcerated people rejoin society. In the end, let’s remember that reduced recidivism is a worthy goal that will benefit every community.

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