Now is a well-chosen moment in time to discuss re-entry.
I say this because most American citizens are about to join the world again, back to society after a years-long pandemic lockdown. Those same citizens are only beginning to understand that things are not likely to be the same when they finally leave the confines of their homes. The world, and they themselves, are irrevocably altered by the experiences since March 2020.
But I use the term “lockdown” extraordinarily loosely. There are nearly 2 million prisoners across this country, who do not have the luxury of being locked down in a comfortable house, with streaming services; the ability to video chat with family and friends at a whim; gaming systems that provide online socialization; and other comforts. Instead, they are locked down in a 10-foot-by-12-foot cell with another person, using a shared toilet less than 4 feet from their bunks. It’s all cold concrete and hard steel.
If socializing or regaining some semblance of normalcy seems complicated after a year in one’s own home, imagine doing so after 10 to 20 years or more in a hell-on-earth environment. Imagine the trauma and anxiety they face with no support or resources and the stigma of a criminal record.
The results of these practices show how hard it is to stay out of prison once you return to the community. The most recent U.S. Department of Justice statistics show that 62% of people released from state prisons in 2012 across 34 states were arrested within three years, and 71% were arrested within five years.
In my state of Virginia, 24% of people return to prison within four years, according to state data. That’s the second lowest rate of recidivism in the U.S. However, I still feel like the state doesn’t adequately prepare prisoners for a successful return to society.
In my observation, there is minimal, if any, education of merit. Minimal, if any access to resources required to survive.
The materials used in the re-entry program are 30 years outdated. When I sent copies of the re-entry materials to my brother who is a high school teacher, he was shocked.
A successful re-entry involves a stable place to live, ideally with family, but too often, I hear of the corrections department rejecting “home plans” without providing any reason. Too often, a prisoner is not informed until a week or two before their official release date, allowing the system to steal 30 more days from that individual, who has to submit a new plan.
This can throw a prisoner’s plans for re-entry askew, especially for those prisoners who are depending on a ride because they live out of state, or those who were lucky enough to secure employment prior to release. It also creates an extra — and wholly unnecessary — level of stress, anxiety and demoralization.
For those who have no family or friends that were approved by the department of corrections to live with, there is the half-way house. Availability of bed space in these prisons outside of prison can be limited. This too can negatively impact a prisoner’s release date.
Now that most American citizens have experienced a little taste of the restrictions of a lockdown, perhaps they can empathize with a prisoner’s suffering. Doing time anywhere can be a struggle, but prisons are a particularly inhumane environment.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.