Over 10,000 people are released from U.S. (United States) prisons weekly. All of these people have the chance to leave their criminal pasts and start anew. However, they’re bound to enter a society unprepared to freely accept people with criminal backgrounds.
What are the problems faced by prisoners when they’re released? How can these issues affect the social reintegration success rate of ex-prisoners? Are there ways to solve these problems?
This article explores the plight of former prisoners as they transition from imprisonment to freedom. It tackles the different problems ex-inmates encounter when they try to reintegrate into society.
Furthermore, this write-up includes prisoner rights advocates’ suggestions for resolving the problems that hinder inmates’ successful reintegration.
If you’re among those with loved ones who are set for release. You should prepare for their reentry into society. You can meet them on their release and secure the necessary documents they’ll need to start life anew.
Visit LookUpInmate.org and access the records of over 7,000 correctional facilities nationwide. You can check your loved one’s record, which can be crucial when applying for government benefits and job employment.
What Happens to Prisoners When They Are Released?
Prison release has been romanticized in many movies as a moment of freedom and hope. However, most ex-prisoners feel uncertain about their future outside prison walls.
Previously incarcerated individuals experience discrimination, have limited job opportunities, and are forced to adhere to rules and regulations penalizing those with criminal records.
To truly understand the problems prisoners face after release, one needs to view the world from their perspective.
The Transition Out of Prison
When prisoners finally leave prison, they face numerous barriers that can hinder their full-speed reintegration into society.
These barriers may unintentionally keep prisoners from enjoying their recently acquired freedom. Sadly, the reality is that many ex-prisoners find it difficult to live normal lives as they go through this transition phase out of prison.
Incarcerated People Face Barriers to Reentry Post Prison
Studies conducted to understand the plight of former prisoners pointed out specific barriers that may hinder the success of post-release reintegration. These barriers include:
- Lost voting rights unless such rights have been restored
- Scant job opportunities
- Limited access to education
- Ineligibility to many welfare programs
These barriers profoundly affect millions of ex-offenders doing their best to start a new life.
Life After Prison: The ‘Sentence Never Ends’
It’s concerning that many former inmates see life outside prison as an extension of a prison sentence that doesn’t end.
The depriving nature of prison walls takes a new form upon release. The tangible walls are replaced by invisible “barriers” that prevent ex-prisoners from accessing rights and benefits others enjoy. To resolve these problems, precisely identifying these hindrances is the first thing to do.
What Are the Key Problems Facing Newly Released Prisoners?
There are common daily problems that prisoners face after they’re released back into society. However, ex-prisoners can solve these daily challenges through the help of their loved ones.
Not Knowing Where to Begin
One understandable dilemma of gaining freedom after years of incarceration is not knowing where to begin. This problem may not be that apparent for inmates in prison for a few months.
However, reintegrating into a rapidly changing society can be daunting for people who have been incarcerated for decades. Ex-prisoners may not know where to find a job, where to live, and who to talk to.
Some government and private organizations have provided support systems to resolve this issue but can only do so much.
If you have a loved one behind bars set for release, it’s best to prepare yourself to assist them on how they can restart their life.
When determining which aspect of a prisoner’s life they should start with, it’s crucial to realize that these post-prison release problems can be categorized into micro, mezzo, and macro challenges.
The first thing that ex-prisoners may encounter is micro-challenges. These may involve personal issues that affect the individual. Many factors can affect members of the former inmate population. An example is the issue of homelessness.
Improving Housing Options for Ex-prisoners
Unfortunately, the housing problem that causes homelessness to many ex-prisoners has become a systemic problem. Studies have shown that former prisoners are 10 times more likely to experience homelessness. Moreover, the rate is much higher for African-American and Hispanic individuals.
Providing stable housing options for ex-prisoners can help reduce this problem. The solution can be giving inmates coming out of prison immediate access to public housing or temporary dwelling places.
Mezzo or mid-ranged problems are issues that affect more than one individual. For instance, mezzo-level social work is the welfare level given by social workers to cases that involve vulnerable groups or small communities.
The incarceration of a person in the family will almost certainly cause emotional strain.
Moreover, suppose the person placed behind bars is a breadwinner. In that case, it can devastate family members, especially those with children who are minors.
However, studies reveal that inmates who maintained family contact despite incarceration tend to have a lower recidivism rate or reoffending rate. Providing adequate visiting and communication opportunities between prisoners and their families is crucial to resolving this issue.
Also, some correctional facilities have incentivized families to continue communicating with a loved one behind bars through video chat privileges and gas coupons.
Society, Social Connections, and Expectations Upon Release
Societal problems affecting previously incarcerated people are not always due to government lapses. In most cases, the problem is the product of rapid technological advances.
For instance, the skills of prisoners incarcerated more than 10 years ago may no longer be compatible with the skills society requires. Ex-prisoners, at this point, are almost obligated to learn new skills necessary to land a decent job and avoid unemployment.
Aside from this, social connections practically vanish upon incarceration. Only those willing to walk the extra mile to stay in contact with people behind bars remain.
Many studies have shown a growing social inequality within the country’s criminal justice system. A significant number of incarcerated individuals comes from minorities. Black men with less education are more likely to get imprisoned than white men with similar education levels.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) showed that approximately two-thirds of released prisoners reoffend within three years on average. Many of these problems are due to the underlying social inequality that caused the situation in the first place.
The DOJ showed that by doing the following, the recidivism rate can be lowered:
- Ensure ex-prisoners secure employment
- Give access to transitional housing
- Provide helpful mentoring
Some problems affect the entire prison population on a macro scale. These challenges may affect how each state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) provides the necessary solutions to resolve the problems prisoners face, especially before and after release.
The American Bar Association highlights thousands of legal restrictions directly imposed on ex-prisoners. Examples of this blanket restriction include:
- Limitations to specific federal grants that can help ex-prisoners regain their lives
- Hindrances to getting public housing that can reduce homelessness
Let’s say the government reviewed and updated policies and administrative implementation in different jurisdictions. In that case, the change could improve the situation of millions of former prisoners returning to the general population.
Altogether, serving one’s sentence is not the only way to get released. Another path for prison release is through parole, a conditional release given to prisoners who have served enough time to reach parole eligibility.
However, many might not realize that once paroled, some prisoners are placed in tight situations where mistakes are amplified, resulting in re-incarceration.
For instance, a parolee may not be able to get a new driver’s license because of a criminal record. However, a parolee has to regularly report to a parole officer, which may force them to drive even without a license.
This driving violation can lead to the parolee paying fines, which increases their debt and may result in more problems in the future.
Connections and relationships get damaged by incarceration. Family ties can be destroyed when a parent, spouse, sibling, son, or daughter gets entangled with the law, leading to imprisonment.
However, even though there are means of communication between inmates and their loved ones, they remain costly and tedious. As a result, many inmates are left alone, with all forms of connection to family and friends gone.
Prisoners are also prone to divorce and estrangement from family and friends. Their minor children are sent to foster care. Losing relationships with family and friends can affect a prisoner once they reenter society.
Another huge problem that can hit a prisoner is getting a job. Aside from the required upskilling for a prisoner to be productive in a rapidly changing society, a criminal record may limit job opportunities.
Barriers to Employment for Ex-prisoners
Having a criminal record can cause employers to reject an application. Additionally, some jobs may not be suitable for an ex-prisoner because of the crimes they’ve committed.
For instance, a person with a vehicle felony might be rejected if they apply as a delivery truck driver, or someone who went to prison due to theft likely won’t be accepted when they apply for a cashier position.
Furthermore, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that over one-third of the prison population was unemployed upon arrest.
Educational Obstacles to Finding Employment
Many obstacles may get in the way of ex-inmates looking for employment. According to the National Reentry Resource Center, around half of adult prisoners have high school degrees. Additionally, ex-prisoners don’t have marketable job skills or often don’t pass the literacy requirement to gain employment.
Prisoner reentry programs must include skills development to prepare inmates set for release to become productive in modern society.
Mental Health Issues
Another issue many ex-inmates may struggle with is mental health issues. Mental illness is a problem that requires the expertise of healthcare providers in prison.
Mental health problems experienced by prisoners include anxiety, depression, substance abuse problems, and psychosis. These issues can profoundly affect an inmate’s reentry success.
Psychological Effects of Long-Term Incarceration
One apparent result of long-term incarceration that may hinder a successful reentry into society is psychological issues experienced by prisoners.
Researchers studying this phenomenon attribute the mental health changes to the environment, which may be hostile for nonviolent offenders. As a result, offenders imprisoned for nonviolent offenses experience anxiety and personality changes that can affect their decision-making skills.
This anxiety may be compounded by the possibility of extended time in prison due to aggravated reasons. For instance, California implements the three-strikes law, where repeat offenders will automatically get a 25-year sentence if they get three consecutive felony convictions.
The time spent incarcerated may expose offenders to traumatizing events that can leave them emotionally scarred for life.
Gaps in Treatment
It doesn’t help that there are treatment gaps for inmates needing such aid.
Prerelease treatment for prisoners is severely curtailed because of Medicaid’s existing inmate exclusion policy. This exclusion policy prevents local governments from getting funds to cover health for inmates in state and federal prisons.
The exclusion means these correctional facilities are solely responsible for caring for their inmates. However, not all prisons have the funds or the will to prioritize health care.
Medicaid is a state and federal program that assists in covering the medical costs of individuals with limited resources and income.
The Medicaid issue is only one of the many problems of inmates regarding health and welfare.
Lack of Support
Another problem prisoners face is the lack of support from family and friends once they return home. Ex-prisoners, upon release, need a support system more than ever.
Incarceration is focused on isolating people who pose a threat to society. This exclusion can result in the loss of support from family and friends.
One cause of the continued stigma against previously incarcerated individuals is the presence of the criminal records database. The purpose of criminal records is to safeguard the public from dangerous criminals.
However, it can also be a double-edged sword that can hurt the inmate who sincerely desires to repent. The society also regards ex-prisoners as people with a high risk of reoffending.
Many people often see ex-prisoners as criminals ready to commit crimes again or have a high tendency to return to drug use or other felonious activity. This stigma can dramatically affect an ex-prisoner’s chance to reenter society.
Challenging Life Circumstances
Incarceration is a life-changing experience with overreaching consequences. These consequences stem from the primary purpose of the prison system, which is to deprive people of certain freedoms to protect society and reduce recidivism. However, punishment can’t force people to change successfully unless followed by a program that nurtures change.
What Do Prisoners Need After Release?
The following are prisoner needs that should be met to ensure a successful reintegration.
These needs can be categorized into immediate needs and ongoing needs. Here is a list of including well-categorized systems to provide inmate support.
- Access to health care after release: Prisoners need public health care programs, as most people released from federal and state prisons have health conditions. These former inmates must get the treatment they need once released.
Healthcare providers and case managers should include ex-inmates in their list of people needing help and not relegate them to the waiting list due to their criminal past.
For instance, New York is pushing Senate Bill S4872 or the New York City Psychiatric Bill, which requires mental health services for inmates with mental issues like post-traumatic prison disorder upon release.
- Access to affordable housing: Shelters for ex-prisoners are crucial as homelessness is a factor that can increase the rate of recidivism. Once former inmates are secured in shelters, they can focus more on improving their lives.
- Access to the labor market: Employment is crucial for former inmates, especially those with families. Ex-prisoner employment can be incentivized to encourage employers to set aside their bias towards people with criminal records and focus on who they are now rather than who they’ve been.
- Access to social support: The community must work together to help people earnestly trying to better themselves. Public safety is a foremost concern. However, one way to promote safety is to ensure that ex-offenders are rehabilitated through care.
- Access to reentry services: The transition stage into society is one crucial moment that can determine the success of any prisoner reentry.
There should be programs and interventions that deal with problems like substance use. The Urban Institute reports that around 75% of ex-prisoners have a substance abuse history, and most have physical and mental health issues.
The number of inmates needing help should be promptly addressed to achieve positive outcomes.
What Can Be Done: Barriers to Successful Re-entry of Formerly Incarcerated People
The only way to resolve the barriers that prevent former prisoners‘ successful reentry is to remove those hindrances. The government and society must reexamine policies, rules, and norms that can harm the lives of previously incarcerated people.
The federal government should start a systemic change in its policies toward people with criminal records. One way is to reexamine the application process to gain benefits and welfare from the government.
Some policies may use criminal history to screen out applicants and reduce their chances of getting grants, services, and assistance from the government.
Criminal records are still crucial when dealing with granting government benefits. However, it’s better if ex-inmates are given a chance to state their case than to be automatically shut off because of their past mistakes.
For example, Washington, D.C., through its Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD), has provided grants to help former inmates start their businesses. This $250,000-a-year program offers funding and educates former inmates on becoming financially stable through entrepreneurship.
Aside from the policies pushed forward by the government, NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) must step up and lead grassroots efforts to help disadvantaged ex-prisoners. Private organizations must join the effort to reintegrate millions of people with criminal pasts so they can start life anew.
The Path to Rehabilitation
The path to rehabilitation is not easy, but it’s not impossible. Even if the road to recovery is long, tedious, and hard, the reward is a new life with new possibilities.
Your loved one will face discrimination and setbacks. However, the secret to overcoming these challenges is never to give up. You can prepare for these potential concerns by gathering all the documents your loved one will need when applying for grants, housing, jobs, and educational opportunities.
One way to gather these necessary documents is to visit LookUpInmate.org. You can access over 7,000 correctional institutions nationwide for gathering criminal records.
- Prisoners and Prisoner Re-Entry
- Barriers to Successful Re-Entry of Formerly Incarcerated People
- Connections Among Poverty, Incarceration, And Inequality
- What Is Parole? How Does Parole Work?
- Why states should change Medicaid rules to cover people leaving prison
- Topic one – Introducing the aims of punishment, imprisonment, and the concept of prison reform
- Many former prisoners struggle to obtain health care after release