This week is the inaugural “National Reentry Week,” an event initiated to change the dialogue about formerly incarcerated Americans. For the inaugural celebration public housing advocates, legal service providers, and community leaders are coming together to work on new efforts to improve opportunities for those involved in the criminal justice system.
Every year we see nearly 600,000 Americans reenter society from state and federal prisons. In 2014 alone, 12 million Americans cycled through our local jail systems. Regardless of the crime and length of time served, once someone has a criminal record, their opportunities after serving time significantly diminish.
Formerly incarcerated individuals face barriers to not just employment but credit, higher education, and housing. There’s no question that some crimes warrant the lifelong burdensome criminal record, but over criminalization of minor offenses is ruining the lives of many Americans who simply don’t deserve it.
Once someone has been arrested, and options limited, their chance of re-offending skyrockets. Even the most well-intentioned individual will succumb to their old habits when they are pressured back into bad situations.
As a society, we too often focus on the crime and punishment portion of justice rather than rehabilitation and increasing opportunities for those reformed individuals who have served their time to become productive citizens.
But there are some making strides in that area.
In-prison programs that focus on skill building, education, and entrepreneurship are on the rise as they are seeing major successes in the area of reducing recidivism.
Reentry Week is meant to change the perception of those who were formerly incarcerated. As with anyone, these individuals still need access to basic opportunities in order to provide for them and their families.
We need to change the way we operate.
We have long focused on punishing those who have committed crimes; it’s now time to encourage success after they have paid their debt.