Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Life After Prison

There finally may be some good news for ex-offenders. The public supports job training and other pre-release services. A recent survey found that a large majority of voters feel that a lack of job training seriously affects ex-offenders chances of re-establishing themselves in society. A proposed law, “The Second Chance Act” now before Congress, would assist. Moreover, former prisoners want to work and want to be productive. Politicians (even Republicans) are starting to see that restrictions on employment, where ex-offenders live and other restraints are contributing largely to the failure of ex-offenders to reintegrate.

Life after prison is tough and frightening. Finding housing, securing health care, re-establishing family relationships, getting a job and having to readjust is a daunting task for even the most educated and stable ex-offender. Many have little work experience and few work skills. Many never finished high school. In many cases, a criminal record, make ex-offenders either unattractive job candidates or legally off limits to most employers. Over the years, many states and companies have prohibited felons from employment in health care, financial services, transportation, and other fields. When I worked for the former Beverly Healthcare, we were prohibited by law in most states and by company policy everywhere from hiring almost any one who had any criminal record in the last 10 years. I could not get my job here at the Towers if I had a criminal record.

Over 2000 ex-offenders are released each day, over 700,000 a year. Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming obstacles, most return as they are unable to reintegrate. Not able to support themselves, they turn to what they know. Meaningful and gainful employment allows ex-offenders to re-enter mainstream society, boosts self esteem. stabilzes families and benefits society much more than all the restrictions will ever accomplish.

Doing this saves state Governments a ton of cash. Incarcerating a person for one year costs on average $25,000 or more. The result could well be fewer new prisons, arrests, prosecutions, and incarcerations. The states can use that now wasted money for education, health care, transportation and other cash strapped services.

States will look at reducing the restrictions on ex-offender employment more as a money saving tool than the right thing to do for our society. So be it, if it results in more ex-offenders being re-integrated and no longer wearing the scarlet letter, or worse an orange jumpsuit, for the rest of their lives.

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