For many people who have been incarcerated for a long period of time, returning home may seem like the biggest day of their life. They may be faced with feelings of relief, excitement, nervousness and fear.
Upon release, some are given a range of items, such as clothing for the day, medication for the week, accumulated or government-provided funds up to $100, parole instructions and a bus ticket.
While some are greeted by overwhelmed families in the parking lot, others struggle to find support after years of isolation. For a returning citizen, family support is extremely important for success upon release. Families can help provide immediate housing, financial support and the extra push needed to overcome the many barriers that they will encounter.
Those who do not have remaining connections with family members or close friends are likely to experience a tougher time reintegrating into society and are more likely to return to prison. It is also difficult to find a job without a permanent address and constant access to a phone and internet.
But finding employment is even more challenging when applicants are required to check a box indicating whether they have a criminal record. This has led to efforts to “ban the box” on job applications, so that employers are not aware of an applicant’s background until later in the hiring process.
Other pieces of legislation, such as The Second Chance Act supports organizations that assist people returning from prison while policies like Clean Slate legislation allow old, nonviolent misdemeanor offenses to be automatically sealed from potential employers. These policies create an easier transition for citizens returning home, providing an opportunity for them to have access to employment and organizational support.
For those that have spent decades in prison, the world that they will enter will seem extremely different than when they left. The rapid growth and dependence of technology and smart phones, adapting to a new culture, and simple tasks such as learning public transportation routes can all seem daunting.
Because returning citizens are often not properly supported and guided, the likelihood of them returning to prison within five years is about 77 percent. Supporting returning citizens begins in prison. Allowing those who are incarcerated to have frequent contact with their family members, access to educational and professional resources, and creating environments of dignity are all important steps that prisons can take to ensure the decline of recidivism rates.
Those of us in communities with returning citizens must use our power to uplift and further resource them as we educate ourselves. We must stop placing false and hurtful identities on those once incarcerated. In our strength, God commands us to bear with the feelings of the weak as we love and build them up (Romans 15:1-2). Learn more about U.S. criminal justice policy here.