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Re-Entry? Let’s Re-Try Our Approach

Picture this: You went to college, earned a degree and three months after graduation you still haven’t landed a job. Frustrated yet?

Now, imagine this: You’ve been arrested and sentenced to jail time. Three years later you’ve been released. You have no educational or hands-on experience, and you are now on the hunt for a job. Impossible? Well, not impossible, but this resume is a game changer, and not the kind that wins games at the last second. So, I’ve decided it’s time for a prison break! Don’t panic – what I mean is, it’s time for prisons to break into new ideas and training methods to prepare inmates for re-entry into society.

Research shows that within three years of being released from prison, almost 68 percent of people are arrested again. Within five years, that number jumps to almost 77 percent. Additionally, there is an increased likelihood of recidivism as individuals become institutionalized. For long periods of time, inmates are, for lack of a better word, “provided” with a place to sleep, hot meals and hygiene facilities. Then they are suddenly released and left to return to a daily life where their next meal is not promised, and the way of life as they remember it may have drastically changed since their incarceration.

And finding a job? It is certainly a lot harder when you have to check the “criminal record” box.

Consider this: What if we begin thinking about re-entry at the time people are sentenced, and begin immediately setting up and providing resources such as self-help groups, education and outreach programs to prepare them for post-incarceration?

Prison Break!

Re-entry programs have been designed to cover areas of employment, health, education and housing. These programs, usually run by non-profit groups, are set up as face-to-face interactions with individuals to help them gain access to resources so they can get back on their feet. Job skills as a learning objective could be taught during the inmates’ sentence time, rather than after release.

Along with re-entry volunteer groups, a direct resource that is seemingly overlooked can be found in a correctional officer.

Correctional officers:

  • Are inside the facilities
  • Have direct contact with inmates
  • Have fundamental knowledge of common job skills to hold down a job

Relationship building is the first step to gaining professional employment skills. Correctional officers who are in close and frequent contact with inmates could certainly teach any of them who want to learn. Are we missing a prime candidate to first facilitate re-entry programs? One would think so.

Let’s break the re-incarceration cycle and revisit re-entry. Let’s consider the recidivism rates where re-entry programs are started earlier. Let’s evaluate if inmates have a higher chance of succeeding upon release if they are taught employment skills earlier and more often. And let’s see if correctional officers who are closest to inmates, are the first group of people who should be employed to make this change.

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