A comprehensive approach to re-entry requires the recognition that re-entry is not just about individuals coming home, it is also about the homes and communities to which they return (Forest & Kearns 2001). Few people are completely unchanged or unscathed by the prison experience. At the very least, prison is painful and incarcerated persons often suffer long-term consequences from having been subjected to pain, deprivation and extremely atypical patterns and norms of living and interacting with others. For the transition to home to be successful, changes in prison conditions, policies and procedures along with significant changes in the way prisoners are prepared to re-enter the free-world community must be radically changed.
Every sentence has its end and most inmates will eventually go home. The treatment they receive while incarcerated will have a definitive impact on their adjustment to the free-world environment. Governor Bush’s Task Force, created in 2005 to focus on prisoner re-entry and its impact on public safety, found an urgent need for the corrections community to adopt re-entry as part of their broader public safety mission. Therefore, many of their recommendations involve steps that should be taken by the Department of Corrections to improve the prospects of prisoners succeeding in living law abiding lives post release. In the state of Florida alone, approximately 30,000 offenders are released annually. The annual estimate of individuals scheduled for release from state and federal prisons hovers around 600,000.
The most critical aspect of post-prison adjustment is gainful employment. Upon return to their communities, ex-offenders have 3 financial choices: find a job; remain unemployed; return to crime. According to the research conducted by the Governor’s Task Force, under the current conditions, most ex-offenders will fail at leading law abiding lives when they return home. Most will be unable to secure stable employment. Our efforts to locate companies willing to hire ex-offenders have been disappointing. However, many of the vocational-based temporary services, like Labor Ready, hire those with a felony. Starting with these companies will allow ex-offenders who want to “make good” to get their foot in the door and put them in a position to show employers their commitment to a strong work ethic. Through these temporary agencies, many ex-offenders have become permanent and have acquired certifications in equipment operations, hazardous waste and other skill sets.
Re-entry is a time, if managed correctly, when ex-offenders can improve the communities in which they live rather than drain them. Helping offenders obtain the right to vote and supporting their efforts to become full community participants with the ability to obtain loans and buy homes would increase their sense of empowerment and promote a greater sense of belonging.