The day a person is released from jail after serving their sentence is a day full of mixed emotions. Joy and relief often win the top spot as reigning emotions for the person themselves.
For that person’s loved ones, happiness at seeing them again after so long away might be at the forefront of their mind.
But, what happens after a person reenters society after serving a sentence? How easy the transition is between jail and beginning a fresh, fulfilling, free life, depends on many factors.
For some ex-inmates, the process can be very distressing and difficult, to say the least. They will have many questions about the future.
How should they go about getting a job with a “record”? Should they go and live with family or get a place alone?
How can they talk to family and friends who don’t understand the experiences they’ve gone through? It can be a delicate process and the hope is that when this transition between incarceration and freedom is managed properly, the results for the future will be better for both that person, for the state, and for society.
This article aims to answer some questions you might have about the reentry process and the purpose of this program.
What is a reentry program?
When a US citizen returns to society after a period of incarceration, they may feel considerable anxiety about their future. If they had a career prior to their conviction, they may not be able to pick it again with a criminal record.
Worries around where their place in society now is can cause a deficit of mental wellbeing in the days, weeks, and months after release.
To help the individual to avoid repeated criminal actions or affiliations, reentry programs help to keep track of and advise recently released criminals.
These individuals may need support to get a new job, to move, or to adjust their support network to create a life that is more honest and healthy than the one they were living just prior to imprisonment.
Reentry programs and reentry courts aim to make reentry into society easier for certain motivated candidates who wish to create a good life for themselves which actively contributes to society.
What are reentry programs for?
The idea behind most reentry programs is to help citizens returning to society after incarceration to be successful in their efforts.
It’s not a hand out or special treatment for people who have served time, but it does aim to remove any barriers to their success in building a legitimate and complete lifestyle to break the cycle of incarceration.
Reentry programs attempt to break the cycle that we see daily in the criminal justice system of offending, imprisonment, then re-offending.
According to the United States Attorney’s Office, “nationally, two out of every three people released from state prisons are rearrested for a new offense and about half are reincarcerated within three years”.
Breaking the law a second time is completely avoidable, and it implies that the person has not learned from their past mistakes and are not willing to make a decent life for themselves in society. This leads to steeper sentencing each time they are convicted. But is it that simple?
Why do people re-offend?
This is a complex question, and it can be impacted by several factors including social, physical and environmental influences. Each individual situation is unique, and reentry programs acknowledge that in their process.
Consider for a moment that a young person is convicted for a drug related offense and is incarcerated for a short time.
When they are released, they move back with their parents where they had previous lives, they meet up with the friends they had before the conviction, who are also social drug-users, and they find it hard to gain employment due to their incarceration being common knowledge in the community.
While that individual has a choice whether to return to their previous lifestyle or not, we must admit that it would be extremely difficult to break from their old habits and support system without sufficient help.
In many cases, a simple lack of available options leading to poor mental health and boredom can lead to repeat offenses being committed.
Subsequently, the more of their lives they spend in prison, the less well-adjusted they will be on reentry to society, and so the cycle continues. This costs the taxpayers millions of dollars every year in accommodating these people in jail.
Reentry programs help certain people to gain employment, get relevant training and to establish a healthy network of support where possible to reduce the likelihood of re-offending.
This saves the state a lot of money in the long run. If each person who we invest in through reentry programs becomes a taxpayer rather than a continuous drain on the resources of the state, then this is real, measurable progress.
What is a reentry candidate?
These are not programs that are offered to every person who is released from jail. There are certain people that are selected for showing motivation to change and better themselves for the good of the community. These are the people that reentry programs attempt to help.
This could be in the form of providing continued rehabilitation support, employment support, or providing education programs to help combat recidivism.
People who have been released from prison or jail have “paid their dues” and served their time according to the criminal justice service, yet when they reemerge back into their communities, they are often not treated the same as they might otherwise have been.
This can lead to a sense of disenfranchisement, extreme frustration, or lack of connection with the people around them, which can lead to reckless behavior and reoffending.
If the candidates who show a motivation to change and shape a moral life outside of prison can be supported to do so, it can help that person to gain employment, keep a stable home and improve their outlook on the future.
Reentry programs aim to make that possible for the right candidates.
Are reentry programs cost-effective?
Many reentry schemes are funded by the state or a government agency. This leads some people to think that convicted criminals are getting special treatment at the expense of their tax dollars. It can seem unfair when people who have a criminal past can get help to improve their situation, but the numbers do add up.
The amount of money the state saves if they can keep one criminal from reoffending is substantial. It’s certainly cost-effective to put reentry programs as a priority for government funding. Turning tax-drainers into law-abiding taxpayers is the goal.
This benefits the state financially as much as it benefits the people who are given the tools to improve their lives.
It comes down to this, some people may ask “are these convicts worth it?”, but the question we should ask is “can we afford not to invest in them?” If we are happy to pay tax money to incarcerate them, why wouldn’t we be willing to pay to rehabilitate them.
Hopefully, in the future, this will mean less tax money is spent on maintaining jails and prisons as there will be fewer inmates.