Homelessness Called ‘Crisis’ for the Formerly Incarcerated

In a report issued Tuesday, the Prison Policy Initiative found that people who have been to prison are 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public. The report recommended policy initiatives including the prevention of housing discrimination against returning citizens.

People who have been to prison are 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public, according to a report released Tuesday by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI).

In the report, entitled Nowhere to Go, the PPI found that over two percent of formerly incarcerated people are homeless and that “nearly twice as many are living in precarious housing situations close to homelessness.”

The report, which the PPI said was the first national snapshot of homelessness among formerly incarcerated people, describes the problem of homelessness among formerly incarcerated as a “little-discussed housing and public safety crisis.”

According to the PPI study, written by Lucius Couloute, the increased likjelihood that an individual leaving prison will be homeless is an “irony considering that police departments regularly arrest and jail the homeless.”

Couloute said landlords and public housing authorities “have wide discretion to punish people with criminal records long after their sentences are over.”

His study said the problem was “fixable” through targeted public policy measures, including:

  • Regulating competitive housing markets to prevent blanket discrimination;
  • Creating statewide reentry systems to help recently-released Americans find homes;
  • Ending the criminalization of homelessness in U.S. cities;
  • Expanding social services for all homeless people, with a “Housing First” approach.

The full report can be downloaded here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ending Crime Checkbox for College Praised by Inmate Advocates

For the first time since 2006, students using the Common Application to apply to college will not need to check a box asking if they have criminal histories. The decision was welcomed as a positive step by advocates of the Ban the Box movement to eliminate barriers to prisoner re-entry.

This fall, for the first time since 2006, students using the Common Application to apply to college will not need to check a box asking if they have criminal histories.

Accepted by over 700 colleges and universities worldwide, the Common App is the country’s most broadly used college application. The change comes following a 10-year campaign to “Ban the Box” by a broad coalition of advocates who claim that the question creates “an undue barrier that harms certain groups of students.”

In a press release, the New York-based nonprofit College & Community Fellowship said that the decision to ban the box “will have tremendously positive effects for college applicants with justice histories, and for colleges that seek to serve increasingly diverse student bodies.”

The criminal history question had not been demonstrated to meaningfully improve campus safety, and many accounts suggested that it deterred those who had been involved in the justice system from seeking higher education upon release.

A 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education quoted one student with a criminal history who considered applying to a top-tier university: “I started the application process right away, but stopped in my tracks when I encountered the question: Have you ever been convicted of a crime? I thought to myself, ‘Why apply? They are just going to reject me.’”

A study conducted by the Education from the Inside Out Coalition found that for every student rejected by SUNY application committees because of a prior felony conviction, 15 did not complete their applications because they feared checking the box.

The Ban the Box coalition hopes that the Common App’s move will be the first step in a wave of institutional changes. Some colleges and universities still ask applicants to disclose their criminal histories, but most have no set procedure for following up with applicants, resulting in arbitrary admissions practices like requesting access to legally sealed documents and other unpredictable, ineffective criteria.

A Center for Community Alternatives study found that fewer than half of the schools that collect criminal justice background information have official policies in place regarding their usage of the information, and only 40 percent train staff on how to interpret such information.

Vivian Nixon, the Executive Director of College and Community Fellowship and a formerly incarcerated receiver of college reentry services, said, “Upon my release from the criminal justice system, I found myself forced to constantly explain my mistakes as I faced questions about my criminal history on job, housing, and even college admissions applications.”

She added, in a press statement on the decision: “These checkboxes asking me to disclose weren’t just an annoyance – they threatened to derail my success and keep me from being the engaged citizen I longed to be.”

We congratulate the College Board, and look forward to a future where justice and safety are evidence-based, rather than stigma-informed.”

Elena Schwartz is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Recidivism Down 23 Percent in Recent Years, Pew Says

In a new analysis, the Pew Charitable Trusts reports that the share of people who return to state prison three years after release has dropped by nearly a quarter in recent years. The three-year recidivism rate for prisoners released in 2012 was 37 percent, a 23 percent drop from the 48 percent rate for those released in 2005.

In a new analysis, the Pew Charitable Trusts reports that the share of people who return to state prison three years after release has dropped by nearly a quarter in recent years. The three-year recidivism rate for prisoners released in 2012 was 37 percent, a 23 percent drop from the 48 percent rate for those released in 2005. Five-year recidivism rates also fell, Pew said.

Pew calculated the rates from publicly available data from the 23 states that consistently reported prison admission and release data to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics from 2005 through 2015. The dataset accounts for about two-thirds of those released from state prisons nationwide each year. The decrease in recidivism occurred alongside a reduction in reported serious crime. FBI crime data show that the combined national violent and property crime rate dropped 26 percent from 2005 to 2015.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Koch Project Tests New Inmate Rehab Model

1,100 inmates from Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Kentucky will be monitored starting this week to help them reintegrate into society.

A project funded by the network aligned with billionaire Charles Koch will monitor 1,100 inmates in four states after they are released from prison starting Aug. 1 to help them reintegrate into society, reports the Washington Post. Through “Safe Streets and Second Chances,” Florida State University researchers will evaluate former inmates for 15 months. The project is in a $4 million pilot phase to test the effectiveness of a reentry model that focuses on individualized plans to help inmates find healthy coping and thinking patterns, the right employment opportunities and positive social engagement. Researchers have been interviewing men and women housed in 48 prisons in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Overhauling the criminal justice system is a priority of the network, which leans libertarian with a small-government, free-market agenda. The network is advocating a shift in the criminal justice system toward rehabilitation and reducing recidivism, rather than focusing on punishment. For years, the network has pushed for bipartisan support for overhauling the criminal justice system and has teamed up with Van Jones, a former Obama administration official and CNN political commentator. Researchers found prisoners overwhelmingly optimistic about their chances of rehabilitation in life outside prison but generally had high levels of trauma. The majority reported having a close friend or family member murdered, and 58 percent reported a drug use disorder. People with untreated trauma symptoms are more likely to become impulsive and incorrectly perceive threats, which could lead to an act of crime, says Carrie Pettus-Davis, a Florida State University professor and the lead researcher.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ex-Inmate Jobless Rate Five Times Higher than Population

Ex-inmates’ unemployment is substantially higher than the joblessness during the worst years of the Great Depression, says the Prison Policy Institute.

The unemployment rate for former prisoners is nearly five times higher than the unemployment rate for the general U.S. population, and substantially higher than even the worst years of the Great Depression, says a new report from the Prison Policy Institute. This indicates “extensive economic exclusion” for ex-inmates, the institute says. Formerly incarcerated people want to work. Their high unemployment rate reflects public will, policy, and practice, the institute says. The inequalities persist even when controlling for age. Among working-age individuals (25-44 in this dataset), the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people was 27.3 percent, compared with just 5.2% unemployment for their general public peers.

That such a large percentage of prime working-age people are without jobs but wish to work suggests that structural factors like discrimination play an important role, the institute says. Research suggests that employers discriminate against those with criminal records even if they claim not to. Although employers express willingness to hire people with criminal records, evidence shows that having a record reduces employer callback rates by 50 percent. The institute says that formerly incarcerated people are more likely to be active in the labor market than the general public. Among 25-44 year old former prisoners, 93.3 percent are either employed or actively looking for work, compared to 83.8 percent among their general population peers.

Formerly incarcerated black women in particular experience severe levels of unemployment, whereas white men experience the lowest. Overall, “prison penalties” increase unemployment rates anywhere from 14 percentage points (for white men) to 37 percentage points (for black women) when compared to their general population peers.

FAMM Urges Increased Use of Compassionate Release

Compassionate release programs could be a useful and humane means of reducing the prison population if states were to use them more, according to a report by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). “It’s cruel and wasteful to continue to incarcerate people who no longer pose a threat to our society,” said report author Mary Price.

Compassionate release programs could be a useful and humane means of reducing the prison population if states were to use them more, according to a report released Wednesday by Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).

Everywhere and Nowhere: Compassionate Release in the States” reviews the early-release programs available to prisoners struggling with extraordinary circumstances, such as a terminal or age-related illness, across the country, including the regulations and requirements for each state’s program.

The report finds that prisoners and their families face many barriers when applying for compassionate release. Prisoners are often unaware that such programs exist, and even when they do apply, many programs do not keep prisoners updated about the status of their applications. Unclear eligibility criteria can result in lengthy delays as a prisoner’s candidacy is evaluated.

Given the drawn-out application process in some places, a grant of compassionate release can sometimes come after a prisoner has already died.

Caring for aging prisoners and prisoners who are ill or suffering from a significant and limiting disability strains prisons’ already limited resources. FAMM’s report cites estimates that older prisoners cost between three to nine times more per prisoner to incarcerate than younger ones.

Compassionate release programs could provide a means of reducing the prison population and saving money as the costs of incarceration rise, the report says.

Older prisoners are also the least likely to be rearrested once released. A Department of Justice review of federal prisoners who received compassionate release found their recidivism rate to be 3.1 percent, a tiny number when compared with recidivism of full-term prisoners.

But FAMM’s analysis finds that although every state except Iowa has some form of compassionate release, these programs are often underutilized.

In Kansas, for example, just seven individuals received compassionate release between 2009 and 2016. In New Jersey, medical parole has been granted no more than two times a year since 2010.

The report recommends that all states enact or amend compassionate release policies to make them more effective; ensure that eligibility criteria are fair; establish clear deadlines to keep applications in progress; publicize compassionate release programs; provide assistance with post-release planning; and require data collection and reporting to gauge programs’ success.

FAMM also released a video, “Compassionate Release: Not a Right of Left Issue,” that features a diverse set of advocates for expanding the use of compassionate release, including prosecutors such as Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

“It’s cruel and wasteful to continue to incarcerate people who no longer pose a threat to our society,” said Mary Price, the report’s author and general counsel at FAMM, in a press release.

“Over the years, most states have attempted to create some form of an early release mechanism for those in need. However, all could be improved, and it is our hope that this will serve as a guide for policymakers nationwide.”

Elena Schwartz is a TCR News Intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Why Do We Keep Our Aging Prisoners Behind Bars?

We spend an incredible amount of money warehousing older and sicker low-risk people, while not spending what we should on intervention and re-entry resources for young people. A smarter approach to incarceration would do the reverse, write two justice experts.

The evolving figures on US prison populations represents both good news and bad news. The good news is that US incarceration rates are no longer increasing, and have even declined slightly.

The bad news is that we still far outpace the rest of the world in unnecessarily locking people up.

We don’t lock up more people because the US is a more dangerous place, we lock up more people primarily because we’ve made policy decisions over the last 30 years that give prosecutors enormous discretion and we have succumbed to cultural and political will for punishment that is closely linked to our continuing struggles with institutional racism and implicit bias.

Our incarceration rates also demonstrate an unwillingness to meaningfully discuss and change our approach to people charged with violent crimes.

But a new report on recidivism data recently released by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) suggests that there are two places we could be making a significant difference, simultaneously reducing future crime and the costs of mass incarceration. The report shows a clear pathway that could create a significantly less expensive system that is fairer, and keeps everyone safer.

While young adults under age 24 are at high risk of recidivism, adults age 55 and above are at low risk for recidivism. We currently spend an incredible amount of money warehousing older and sicker low-risk people, while not spending what we should on effective intervention and re-entry resources for young people.

If we inverted that ratio, releasing the significant portion of older incarcerated people who can safely be released and putting those savings into strategies that would help reduce crimes committed by young adults, we would be much more successful in making society safer and healthier for today and tomorrow.

Marc Schindler

Marc Schindler

We know that young adults account for a disproportionately high percentage of violent crime, and the BJS data show that young adults also have the most difficulty returning to the community, with 51.8 percent being arrested in just the first year. In the Justice Policy Institute’s Improving Approaches to Serving Young Adults in the Justice System, we explore the tailored community-based services that build on the strengths of the young person to provide the best chance of success.

If we chose to implement developmentally appropriate prevention programs and provide research-based reentry approaches to successfully get youth beyond their first year of release, we would do much a much better job of preventing young adults from committing crimes. By tailoring services that provide sufficient education, employment opportunities, and health and mental health supports, states would not only lower recidivism rates, but also save a substantial amount of its budget.

Estimates show that each young adult who avoids returning to the justice system saves taxpayers $ two million. That’s something both the right and left can get on board with.

Contrary to young adults, older individuals, particularly those 55 and older, were re-arrested at much lower rates. This is consistent with previous research in the field. For example, in New York, only four percent of people age 65 and older were re-convicted; while in Virginia, only 1.3 percent of people older than 55 were re-convicted.

The research is clear: there is minimal negative impact on public safety from releasing older people from prison.

These findings are also consistent with an organic experiment playing out in Maryland. In what is known as the “Unger” case, almost 200 people who had been convicted of violent crimes and sentenced to life were released following a 2012 court ruling that jury instructions in their cases were constitutionally flawed.

Jeremy Kittridge

Jeremy Kittridge

With an average age of 64 upon release, and having served an average of 40 years, they have had a recidivism rate of less than one percent.

Part of the Unger defendants’ achievement can be credited to the re-entry support provided before and after their release. Their overwhelming success has been acknowledged by both legislators and prosecutors, who have said “the Ungers are a perfect example that you can age out of violent crime.”

Despite the incredible success rates among older people safely released from prison, we continue to annually spend approximately $16 billion to incarcerate this population. The financial impact will increase substantially with population projections for elderly incarcerated people to hit 400,000 by 2030. We have barely touched the surface of the potential savings that could be reinvested by safely returning older incarcerated individuals to the community.

We’re currently operating secure nursing homes for people who pose almost no threat to public safety; we should, instead, be better utilizing those resources by targeting services for a higher risk young adult population and thereby reducing crime.

Marc Schindler is executive director of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). Jeremy Kittridge is a research and policy associate with JPI. They welcome comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Not Guilty—But Not Free 

When exonerated individuals finally leave prison, they are often free in name only. For many of them, the struggle to find employment, housing and mental health treatment is the “stuff of nightmares,” writes a former Baltimore public defender.

Earlier this year, Richard Phillips—wrongfully convicted and locked up for 47 years— was finally exonerated and released at the age of 72. His reentry into society should be a happy occasion, but Phillips now faces an entirely new set of challenges.

When the state makes such a grave mistake, you would assume there would be a protocol to help Phillips transition back into the real world.

Not so.

Phillips said there are programs in place for former prisoners, but when you have been declared not guilty “You’re on your own.”  Since his release, Phillips has been slowly trying to rebuild his life. He has applied for financial assistance as well as new IDs, since his were all lost while he was incarcerated.

Richard Phillips

Richard Phillips. Photo from Massachusetts Department of Corrections

Phillips’ dilemma raises a larger issue regarding the lack of support for those exonerated of crimes they did not commit. While not all states impose ongoing restrictions on exonerees, most do little to help exonerees get back on their feet after prison.

This leaves many struggling to find employment, housing and, most of all, mental health treatment. The state has a fundamental obligation to help exonerees return to society. They should be doing more to uphold this obligation.

The mental health burdens on the wrongly convicted are tremendous, as case after case demonstrates.

After his exoneration, Gary Gauger—who was wrongfully sentenced to death in 1994 for the murder of his parents—wouldn’t leave home unless forced to do so.

Another exoneree named Earl Charles—who described his wrongful conviction as a “scar,”committed suicide in 1991 by walking into oncoming traffic. Darryl Hunt, who spent 19 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, killed himself in a parking lot. Roy Criner, who spent 10 years in prison before being exonerated, says he has attempted suicide three times.

This is the stuff of nightmares.

Exonerees are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit— an injustice in itself that most people could not imagine. They then return to a society that may still think they committed the crime despite their exoneration. The world they return to after years—sometimes decades—behind bars is often completely different from the one they left.

Exonerees struggle to find employment, as they are not entitled to their former jobs and their arrest record can still appear on background checks. They often speak of lacking a social support system and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other chronic health conditions.

Given that they have to try to reconcile and come to terms with their experience of wrongful imprisonment, exonerees might have the highest incidence of PTSD of all former inmates.

A little over half of states have compensation statutes for the wrongfully convicted. Moreover, state compensation mechanisms severely limit those who may qualify for compensation and cap the amount of recovery at artificially-low levels. A study by the Innocence Project found that only 37 percent of those exonerated receive any funding from the state at all.

Unlike parolees and probationers, exonerees often don’t have services to help them re-enter society. Only three states have dedicated re-entry services for the exonerated. Given that exonerees shouldn’t be “re-entering” in the first place, this makes no sense.

Given the challenges we know the formerly incarcerated face when they return to society, this state of affairs is appalling. While we can never truly right the wrong of placing an innocent person behind bars, at the very least, we should provide compensation and re-entry services to help these individuals get back on their feet.

Nia Bala

Nia Bala

And we certainly should not continue to supervise them when they should never have been behind bars in the first place.

The way we treat exonerees—those who have been fundamentally wronged by the government in the most unimaginable way possible—should horrify us. Phillips and the thousands of other individuals who have been exonerated deserve better.

Nila Bala is a senior criminal justice fellow at the R Street Institute and a former assistant public defender of Baltimore. She welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

For These Returning Inmates, Rebuilding Lives Starts Behind Prison Walls

Bryan Kelley spent half his life behind bars. Now out of prison, he heads a Texas program that prepares inmates for the challenges of rebuilding their lives after they serve their sentences.

In April 2018, Bryan Kelley became chief executive officer of a Texas-based nonprofit, called Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), that helps incarcerated people reenter society more easily once they’re released from prison.

Kelley, 52, was not a successful CEO looking for new challenges outside the business world; nor did he have rich experience with NGOs. He’s a convicted murderer who spent nearly half his life behind bars and was released from prison only four years ago.

It wasn’t too long ago, as he admitted, that he had never Googled anything, sent an email, used a cell phone, nor seen a debit card. “Prior to prison,” he told The Crime Report. “I was a terrible employee.”

Now, for those joining the program he leads, he’s an example of why a term behind bars doesn’t have to mean a lifelong sentence to invisibility and failure in civilian society.

Born in Ottawa, Kansas, Kelly’s early life was clouded by financial struggles and alcoholism within his family. His first of many arrests happened in his early 20’s, for unpaid traffic tickets. In 1992, Bryan was convicted of the murder of his cocaine dealer in what he calls “a drug deal gone horribly wrong.”

He was sentenced to life in Texas prisons and was first eligible for parole after just six years due to the state’s regulation at the time. However, the parole board wouldn’t consider him for release until he completed at least 20 years inside. In his 13th appearance in front of the board, he finally made parole—but turned it down.

Instead he asked for a transfer to another prison so he could participate in PEP.

“I knew what a unique experience it was going to be because I had served as peer educator for the program years before,” he said. “Going through PEP was worth another year in prison.”

Many people fail at the difficult task of remaking lives after prison.

According to various measures of recidivism rates, around two-thirds of all formerly incarcerated people are rearrested within three years of their release. Texas recidivism rates are fairly low compared to other states, but they are stable nonetheless: according to the latest Statewide Criminal and Juvenile Justice Recidivism and Revocation Rates report from January 2017, around 62 percent of the adults and juveniles who were released between 2011-2013 from a state jail were rearrested within three years, and 46 percent of those who were released from prison were rearrested.

These numbers aren’t mere statistics.

They represent lives and a lot of money. It’s well known that other than the moral problem embedded in such high incarceration rates, the issue is a financial one as well. You hear about bi-partisan efforts to address the problem, both at state and federal level. But what is really being done? What programs really work?

Last April, around the time Kelly began his new job, a Koch Brothers initiative for prison reform called Safe Streets and Second Chances launched a pilot project aimed at giving inmates the counseling and education they need before getting out of prison. The initiative has White House support, through the Office of American Innovation, headed by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

But the program’s administrators might borrow a page from PEP.

The program is highly selective. Recruiters focus on men and women who are within three years of their release, whether on parole or a full discharge. They can’t be sex offenders due to the tough restrictions imposed after their imprisonment, which make it hard for them to fit in the program. Those who show interest get application forms, which by themselves constitute a tough screening point.

Eighteen pages of questions cover the candidate’s full life history and beyond, including questions about the meaning behind their tattoos, gang history, childhood, sexual orientation and faith. Getting through it can have a dampening effect on an incarcerated person’s motivation to succeed.

And that’s just the first stage.

The inside program takes nine months, “just like the time it takes to create a child,” says Kristie Wisniewski, PEP’s chief of staff. It has a few phases, from re-building the person’s character to creating a business plan. As part of the program, businessmen and other volunteers visit the prisons and meet the participants to share their experience and give professional tips.

Last December, PEP accepted its first class of women in the Lockhart Unit, 40 minutes ride south of Austin. This first class was shorter than the men’s program, as the team of PEP still works on adapting the character development phase to women, so it included only the hardcore business parts.

The second class is scheduled to begin in July, and by then it will include the full curriculum.

PEP’s expansion to the women’s population couldn’t come at a better time.

According to data presented by the Prison Policy Initiative in the Beyond the Bars conference held in March at Columbia University, the incarcerated women population is growing. In some states, the women population grew sharply enough to offset the reduction in the number of incarcerated men.

Since 1978, the nationwide women’s state prison population grew 834 percent—more than double the pace of growth among men. In Texas while the men’s prison population declined by 6,000 between 2009 and 2015, the number of incarcerated women grew by 1,100.

Mock Interviews

On a warm cloudy Friday on the second week of March, Lockhart hosted one of its first mock interview events, one of the program’s highlights, with the 33 female graduates of the first class of PEP. About 50 volunteers arrived to help the women prepare for their job interviews outside. They were excited to see us and eager to impress.

Bert Smith, PEP’s CEO emeritus, said that so far they have found the women have more common characteristics with their male colleagues than differences. Due to the experience some of the women already have in business, however, he believes more of them will succeed outside.

We started our visit in the families’ visiting room, where Smith and the executive relations manager in Houston, Charles Hearne, briefed us on what’s expected. The room is wide and its walls are colorful, decorated with paintings of Disney characters, Sesame Street and Minions.

When we entered the prison itself it felt more like going back to elementary school than prison. Every other door led to a classroom in which a lesson was taught, including math, reading and writing and other things many of us consider basic. Empowerment slogans decorate the walls and the uniforms are colorful: pink for the kitchen workers, yellow for those who work outside, and the women in orange – not really the “new black”– are maintenance workers.

The hall where we conducted the interviews didn’t have tables— only chairs— so it provided a less formal and less intimidating atmosphere. In the corner of the room was an entrance to a small, completely new computer room and next to it a small storage space for musical instruments that are used in special occasions.

The women were charming and impressive. Though many were victims of abusive spouses, addiction or troubled parents, they all seemed to glow with pride and enthusiasm about the future.

Michelle, a mother of two in her early forties, told me about trying to stay sane in a place that can easily seem like to a Cuckoo’s Nest: “some girls let the time do them. I don’t want to become a product of my environment.”

Michelle was sentenced to five years for stealing from her employer and in the time of the event was going through her review period toward her parole hearing. She told me she does crosswords and logic riddles to keep her gray cells in shape.

Her struggle to maintain the essence of herself is a perfect representation to the difference between an incarcerated woman and an inmate. This is not merely a linguistic distinction; it’s a matter of character.

Kelley, for his part, continues to rebuild his life as a normal member of society. In a few months he will marry his fiancé, a certified public accountant, whom he met at church. In one of their first dates near a local lake she asked him if he feels comfortable telling her about his past.

He took out a little smooth stone he held in his pocket from their walk along the waterfront. He reached out to her hand and put the stone in it, saying: “every time I tell my story, it’s like I’m carrying around a heavy burden and I’m giving a little piece of it away. My burden is not as heavy as it was.”

Anat Kamm

Anat Kamm

That is where their relationship started.

Anat Kamm is a 2018 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Justice Reporting fellow. This article was produced for her fellowship reporting. Kamm spent over two years in an Israeli prison. Released on parole, she reports that she “was lucky enough to have an easy landing, thanks to my family who had both the means and the will to help me reintegrate into society.” She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

After Prison, Coming Home Can be the Toughest Ordeal of All

Prison is often just a stop along the road for individuals who have been struggling with victimization all their lives, says Bruce Western, author of a new book exploring returning inmates’ experiences. That’s why the justice system should rethink its approach to who it punishes—and how—he argued during a talk in New York Thursday.

Prison is often just a stop along the road for individuals who have been struggling with victimization all their lives, says Harvard sociologist Bruce Western.

Western, author of the recently released Homeward: Life in the Year After Prison, said he was shocked by the findings of his own research showing the amount of violence many inmates had experienced long before they were incarcerated.

homeward bound“In a world that is so saturated with issues of moral complexity, our criminal justice winds up piling punishment upon people who are the most disadvantaged and have very serious histories of victimization,” Western said.

Western, the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy at Harvard University and a co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab, was speaking at a discussion of his book Thursday.

He was joined by Khalil Cumberbatch and Vivian Nixon, two former inmates who are among the leaders of the prison reform movement. Both said that the help available to them immediately after their release was crucial to their successful reentry to civilian society.

Vivian Nixon

Vivian Nixon

“I have a wonderful career that I love now, but it’s because I had that support when I got out,” said Nixon, executive director of the College and Community Fellowship.“And I attached that support to opportunity.”

She considers herself lucky to have had family support after serving a four-year sentence, but added it still took her 18 months to find work after being released.

Khalil Cumberbatch, associate vice president of policy at the Fortune Society, served a 6 ½ year sentence and took advantage of in-prison programs offered before release.

Bruce Western

Bruce Western

“People told me, ‘If you wait until the day you get out of prison to talk about your game plan, you’ve already lost,’” Cumberbatch said. “The real ‘game’ begins after you are released.”

According to Western, returning inmates faced systemic disadvantages that often imperiled their ability to lead productive lives. His research, conducted in the Greater Boston area, focused on men and women leaving state prisons in Massachusetts.

But he found that economic security was crucial to their ability to stay out of future trouble with the law, noting that many individuals were simply “leaving prison for poverty.”

He argued that the criminal justice system needed to be more conscious of the life experiences of offenders before and after their prison term. Although in the popular mind there was a clear line between victims and perpetrators of violence, many individuals experienced both roles.

“It always boggled my mind that the rest of the world didn’t know how poor people lived, and especially how poor black people lived,” said Nixon, who grew up in a housing project in Long Island.

Khalil Cumberbatch

Khalil Cumberbatch

“Violence was the norm, frailty was the norm, and constant discrimination was also the norm. Even though it was common to me to understand this was how we lived, not everyone grew up like that.”

Western, one of the nation’s foremost scholars on incarceration issues, said he had once thought statistics on incarceration, reentry and recidivism would speak for themselves in arguments for justice reform.

He said he wrote his new book to bring the human cost of incarceration closer to home.

Nixon agreed.

“The way we use mega-data in our society dehumanizes us all,” she said. “We can all fit into some category of mega-data, whether positive or negative, and that does not tell the entire story of who we are.”

Marianne Dodson is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org