Transitioning from prison to our communities is a daunting challenge...
Over 650,000 inmates in the United States will be released into society this year after serving their sentences. Many entered prison with little job experience or education. Many were incarcerated hundreds of miles from their families with little opportunity to maintain relationships. Instead of learning how to change their lifestyles, many offenders adopted dangerous behaviors in order to cope in a toxic prison culture of violence, gang activity, and idleness. Once their time is done, they must re-adjust to modern society, restore their relationships with their family, locate a home, find gainful employment, and deal with the addictions that led to many of their convictions in the first place.
...which many offenders are ill-equipped to tackle.
Unfortunately, many ex-offenders are woefully unprepared to navigate the challenges of reentry. In a culture slow to understand why prisoners should have a second chance, they will end up homeless, unable to find sufficient work, in need of substance abuse treatment and, most critical of all, without a support group to assist them. An estimated 70% of these inmates will be re-arrested within two years of their release. Such a high recidivism rate not only indicates the failure of our society to address the needs of ex-offenders but also demonstrates the public safety risk if offenders cannot learn to become productive citizens.
Prison Fellowship calls for comprehensive reentry preparation and support.
This crisis has a solution, however. President Bush, in his 2004 State of the Union address, reminded the nation that “America is the land of the ‘second chance’ and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” In the effort to reform the criminal justice system according to biblical principles of restorative justice, Prison Fellowship calls for returning offenders to be equipped with the following things:
- A safe place to live
- A good job
- A loving mentor
- Healthy relationships
- A changed heart
- A welcoming church
- Freedom from addiction
- Healed relationships with family and friends
- Access to medical and mental health services
- Restored citizenship rights
To accomplish this, Prison Fellowship advocated successfully for the Second Chance Act of 2007, which establishes grants for states and non-profit organizations to implement mentoring and other reentry programs. Prison Fellowship’s Model Principles of Reentry is a tool policymakers should use to develop reentry legislation and programs. Restrictions on offenders' housing and employment opportunities should be re-examined. Finally, the community—individuals, churches, and private organizations—should be more receptive, more loving, and more committed to forgiveness. Collaborating to meet ex-offenders’ reentry needs will improve public safety and help restore our communities broken by crime.