Many, if not all, of individuals who have served prison time for a misdemeanor or felony will tell you that their sentence doesn’t end upon release or at the end of supervision. The true sentence that accompanies a conviction extends throughout their entire lifetime. Regardless of the crime or time served, returing citizens face continued discrimination and stigmas that never seem to end. Their challenges extend to their community, their workplace, and even social circles. These negative effects have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study found that individuals impacted by the justice system were at a much higher risk of suffering and/or dying from the COVID-19 virus.
To support returning citizens as they transition back to society, consider the following options for reducing roadblocks and hurdles:
Refrain From Judgment
Circumstances for each returning citizen are different, and many returning citizens have served time for relatively minor infractions. Some have even been wrongly convicted but have yet to be exonerated. In addition to avoid judgement, choose your words wisely. Terms like an offender, jailbird, and even ex-offenders are harmful. Such words create feelings of shame and embarrassment, which make it even more difficult for individuals to overcome the stigma and obstacles they face upon returning to society.
Offer Employment Opportunities
Lawmakers would have the population at large believe that there are tons of opportunities for returning citizens.Yes, employment is often a requirement to be eligible for placement at a halfway house or stipulated within parole and probation guidelines. But these jobs are often entry level and do not provide a livable wage. The single most important goal for most people coming out of the prison system is to earn an income and find a place to live.The truth is, many reentry programs lack funding or adequate capacity to ensure every returning citizen finds gainful employment. Earning a living and being independent is empowering for individuals returning to society. Employers should do what they can to help.
Provide Training Programs
Since lack of educational attainment is positively correlated with criminality, many state and federal prison systems offer inmates the opportunity to earn their high school diplomas or college degrees. Providing returning citizens with additional learning opportunities help them chart a path to a future. Employers should consider how they might be able to collaborate with vocational programs that offer apprenticeship opportunities in sought-after careers like plumbing, welding, construction, and automotive mechanics offer a great boost for learners. Examples of these great programs include The Hope Foundation And Justice Reskills.
Ultimately, there are many ways for individuals and organizations to provide support for returning citizens. With an open mind and a generous attitude, you can help someone being released from prison start fresh and become a great success and a contributing member of his or her local community.