Barriers to Reentry
Reentry refers to a returning citizens - someone with a criminal record - reintegrating back into society. High reentry rates means more people are returning to their homes. A successful reentry means they successfully re-establish their life in normal society.
Barriers to reentry are obstacles that make returning to society difficult and sometimes impossible. The consequences range from homelessness to committing another crime. The truth is that most people want to return to society and stay out of prison, but when the pressures of their criminal record becomes too great, many return to their old lifestyle and habits – which likely contributed to their conviction in the first place.
The barriers to reentry are compounding and intertwined. Most returning citizens struggle with all these barriers to some degree; and many barriers leave people in a catch 22. For example, you need a higher education to get a better paying job, but you need a good paying job to pay for a higher education.
There are all types of crimes and therefore all types of criminals. While there are many people in prison with a Bachelors, Masters and even PH.D degree, 40% of inmates do not have a GED or high school diploma. Most jobs in the USA require at least a high school education. Add low education achievement with a criminal record and it can become almost impossible to find a job, let alone one that provides a living wage.
One of the major determining factors of poverty is employment. Making a living wage is often the beginning and end of poverty. For returning citizens, employment is an especially difficult barrier. Most people who were incarcerated fared poorly in the labor market before they were incarcerated. On any given year before they were incarcerated, only about half of inmates reported any earnings. For those who did report earnings, only 13% made more than $15,000. The median earnings was $6,250. Although an individual can make it on as little as $15,000, most returning citizens are coming back to a family. A family cannot survive on so little money.
It’s well known that the cost to buy or rent a house or apartment are quickly outpacing many people’s earnings. This is especially true for returning citizens who already struggle to find jobs with a living wage. But the cost of renting or buying is only one part of the housing barrier for returning citizens.
Many housing complexes also run background checks, and many will not rent to someone with a criminal background. Housing complexes are however more willing to rent to someone with a misdemeanor rather than a felony. This makes finding a suitable place to live even more difficult for many returning citizens, regardless of their ability to pay.
Substance use is tightly associated with many crimes including robbery, prostitution, and assault, and that’s not including all the various drug crimes one can be charged with. Some estimates show that between 3%-33% of all crimes are committed in order to obtain drugs (rates depend on the category of crime). Those estimates don’t account for any explicit drug offenses, such as possession or distribution.
Substance use often leads to addiction, and a drug or alcohol addiction has serious impacts on a person’s mental, emotional and physical health. Going to prison often means a cold turkey stop from using drugs, but that doesn’t mean the desire to use once they are released goes away. Many people who used drugs got into them because of friends or family members. Returning to that old social life often leads to them using drugs again, because for many inmates, drugs was just another family or friend activity.
Experts estimate that 20% of people in jail and 15% of people in prison have a serious mental illness. Without proper treatment and support, people with a serious mental illness are unlikely to receive treatment either because they aren’t diagnosed or they cannot afford treatment. Serious mental illness is a significant bar to their ability to hold steady employment; and can lead to other issues like substance use as a form of self-medication, unemployment, and homelessness.
We all know how expensive it can be to buy a car, insure it, register it, and maintain it. Add to that regular gas costs each week, which average around $30-$40 depending on your car. It takes a few thousands dollars to buy the car and set up everything you need for it to legally be on the road. Plus $120-$160 per month to drive it. Take what we already know about their ability to find work – that only 55% of returning citizens reported any earnings, and most had earnings under $15,000 – and factor in transportation. Many returning citizens do not have access to a car and cannot afford a car. Without a car, many returning citizens can only work someplace within a reasonable walking distance. This greatly reduces their employment opportunities.
What happens if they can afford a car, but then it breaks down? Many low-income individuals cannot afford to get their car fixed, which leaves them in the same dilemma as if they didn’t have a car at all.
If public transportation is available, which it usually only is in urban areas, then that opens the area that many people can work. But in areas where there is no public transportation, people just have to walk. Some people walk several miles each way to get to work and back to home. They usually end up walking along dangerous, busy roads with no sidewalks. Walking everywhere again greatly reduces the opportunities and resources available to them.
Removing Barriers to Reentry
Although there are many barriers to reentry, there are many more organizations that are helping break those barriers. Community Action Agencies serve hundreds of returning citizens each year. Our agencies help returning citizens find a suitable house and vehicle. They provide job training, resume help, interview prep, and job referrals. They provide food assistance, rent assistance and programs like Weatherization that help reduce energy costs. Person-by-person, family-by-family, our agencies are working to build stronger communities by making success possible.
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