For many prisoners, the challenges and difficulties that come with incarceration don’t end when they leave prison for the outside world. Free from the monotonous routine and structured environment of prison, these men and women are thrown into a world that is unfamiliar, with little (if any) support structure, few contacts that will do anything other than lead them to reoffending, and bearing a “scarlet letter” that makes it virtually impossible to establish themselves as productive members of society.
It is into such a world that former prisoners enter, trying to find legitimate employment in order to provide for themselves and their families. It is a challenging proposition, and without assistance, many find themselves returning to old, familiar patterns, and then back behind bars.
Fortunately, many states are seeing the benefit of preparing prisoners for life beyond incarceration, and are partnering with private sector employers to provide the needed help for former prisoners to earn a living. A recent National Public Radio story examines efforts being made in the state of Georgia to assist these “returning citizens” in finding work.
In 2014, Georgia spent $17 million in efforts to reduce recidivism, and received another $6 million in the form of federal grants. This money is being used to increase skills training in prison, and to provide more case workers to shepherd newly released prisoners into the workforce.
But government funding is only part of the equation. “We’ve gotta be able to provide meaningful employment for [ex-prisoners],” says Jay Neal, director of Georgia’s newly established office of reentry. “That doesn’t happen without businesses that are willing to give them jobs.”
In order to do that, the reentry office is partnering with non-profit groups like Georgia Works, which provides transitional housing, training, and counseling for ex-prisoners. From there, these men and women are connected with businesses with a track record of hiring former prisoners.
“I really don’t judge [job applicants] on the crime,” says Chris Watkins, a hiring manager for a landscaping company. “I want to see a level of accountability, personal accountability, because I know that if they’re accountable for their actions in the past, that I can count on that when they come to the workforce—honesty, people with the ability to look me in the eye.”
Prison Fellowship supports the efforts being made in Georgia (and elsewhere) to remove barriers preventing former prisoners from reintegrating into their communities. Providing opportunities for employment is a key way to help ensure that ex-prisoners are able to support their families without returning to their previous ways.
But meaningful change is brought about not only by changing the environment, but by changing the heart. By ministering to the spiritual needs of prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families, Prison Fellowship introduces people to a God who can transform lives, renewing hearts and minds through Christ. Through in-prison ministry and reentry programs, and with the help of bridge churches committed to serving former prisoners, lives are being changed, and God is glorified. To find out how you can be a part of this life-changing work, visit our get involved page.