In our conversations with community partners, it is apparent that there is very little data about
the needs of those with older criminal records. The formal criminal justice system follows people
only while they are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole. Post-release supervision sentences are
generally not more than 5 years, though we demonstrate below the very long-term effects of having a
criminal history, since over a third of our respondents have been out of jail for more than 5 years.
Individuals often seek supportive services from a wide range of human service agencies, and there is
usually very little communication between service providers. We offer this and future data to the
community in its efforts to conduct more effective, meaningful programs and services for those
returning from incarceration, or ideally before they ever get involved with the criminal justice system.
Overview of Results
• 80 respondents sufficiently completed the survey
o Age: average 42, range 18 to 64
o 73% male, 27% female
o 68% African-American, 22% Caucasian
• 75% most-recently incarcerated for a non-violent, non-sexual offense
• 33% of respondents have been out of jail or prison for more than 5 years
• Most pressing needs when last released from incarceration:
Employment: a top-3 need for 74% of respondents
o Housing: 68%
o Health care: 36%
o Identification: 30%
o Obtaining food: 24%
• Re-entry services respondents were most satisfied with: social support from friends, family,
and community; identification services; and addiction treatment
• Re-entry services respondents were least satisfied with: probation/parole, housing, and
• 59% of respondents were unemployed, able to work, and looking for work at the time they
took the survey. Only 7% were employed full-time and 3% were employed part-time
• Only 25% have been employed full-time at some point since their release
• 8.5% were enrolled in school at the time they took the survey
• What respondents felt they needed most to gain or secure employment: driver’s license, better
resume, computer skills
• 80% were homeless (18% in shelters, 62% in temporary arrangements with friends or family)
upon release from their most recent incarceration
• 56% needed assistance getting identification after they were last released
• Almost all respondents have received the public assistance they need, but many have needed
assistance ever since their release due to lack of employment opportunities
• 46% were incarcerated, in their opinion, as a direct result of a chemical dependency issue
• One third have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, while only 11% received
mental health counseling during their incarceration.
Details about specific barriers faced by our respondents and other results are discussed below.
These results provide a glimpse into the hidden long-term effects of certain policies and their impact
on ex-offenders and our community. Public education and awareness about re-entry issues will
ultimately benefit those in re-entry, their families, and our society as a whole. We invite you to
continue reading for more detailed analysis of the issues faced by the thousands of individuals
returning to our community each year from incarceration.
What Does it Mean to be in Re-Entry?
No matter how long a person’s jail or prison sentence was, readjusting to the community presents many obstacles and anxieties. Even if someone served just one month in jail, he or she has spent time away from family, friends, children, and work. With limited and expensive communication, many inmates struggle to keep in touch with loved ones. Families struggle if a person they rely upon is absent from their lives. Inmates often incur large debts through court costs, restitution, and civil fines. Some inmates have family who can help, but most struggle with debt long after they have been released. Some prisons offer paid work to some inmates but typically pay less than 40 cents an hour.
After incarceration, individuals must find a place to live and obtain food and personal care products, usable identification, and, ultimately, a source of income, all the while being socially stigmatized, readjusting emotionally, managing debt, and being required and expected to disclose conviction information to everyone It is difficult to plan such logistics during incarceration since
contact with the outside world is so limited and costly. Many ex-offenders have mental health, chemical dependency, or medical issues as well. Then, the challenge of re-establishing one’s outside life is often made difficult by a number of societal, systematic, legal, economic, and emotional factors. Barriers within one institution are often compounded with barriers in another.
Thus, ex-offenders are often trapped in frustrating self-perpetuating cycles. Our societal systems should set one another up
for success, not for failure, frustration, hopelessness, and bitterness—sentiments that do nothing to build our community. It is imperative that we begin to look at the barriers in our society that ex-offenders must navigate and try to increase their ability to secure–with a reasonable amount of effort basic needs and avoid recidivism.
Many people believe it is the responsibility of individuals and their families to provide such assistance with these struggles. Surely these personal social supports are irreplaceable and invaluable; very few of us would be able to succeed with just the assistance of strangers. Unfortunately, though, many people do not have such support. When dealing with legal struggles, there are many burdens put upon the convicted person’s loved ones: identifying available resources, forgiving what the person may have done, understanding the legal jargon, and navigating the often-incomprehensible social and justice systems at work. Friends and family may be uninformed or misinformed. They may have already helped their loved ones through drug addiction, mental illness, multiple incarcerations, or financial struggles and are simply exhausted. Whatever the reason, many people leave jail having
burnt bridges or lost touch with loved ones, no matter how much they may have changed. In these times, people turn to their community. We need data-informed, just, efficient community systems to successfully reintegrate ex-offenders and offer a real chance to do right after they serve their sentence.