Living Life On The Outside: A Guide to Successful Reintegration After Incarceration

Sean has spent the last seven years of his life in prison and is excited about his upcoming release. Although he knows that the next year of his life will be spent on parole, Sean is confident that his transition will be successful. “After all,” he reminds himself, “if I survived seven years in prison then parole will be a piece of cake.” Although the actual reality of reintegration is much more complex than Sean realizes, it is important to note that with sufficient supports, Sean and other ex-offenders are fully capable of brand new starts when they return to their communities.

One of the most important factors of successful reintegration post-incarceration is meaningful employment. A study conducted by The Urban Institute found that people who were employed and earning higher wages were less likely than their peers to be re-incarcerated following their release. This same study showed that individuals who held jobs or participated in job training programs while they were incarcerated had better employment outcomes after their release. Another study that was funded by The Ford Foundation found that re-offense decreased by 46 percent when ex-offenders had access to post-secondary education while incarcerated.

However, successful employment is not an automatic when a person leaves incarceration. It is one of the greatest worries ex-offenders have, even more so than housing, as they are released. Ex-offenders should know it is possible to find employment and it starts with developing more marketable skills. Many prisons offer programs such as post-secondary education, entrepreneurship training, barbering, culinary skills, sanitation, hair styling, CNA, and other vocational training programs, which they should take advantage of prior to their release.

The post incarceration job search can be confusing and hard to navigate. Unfortunately, discrimination based on criminal history can occur in the workforce, making it even harder and more nerve racking to secure employment post-release. Seeking out support can be a critical factor in combating this discrimination. There are many job readiness programs offered by social services and some of these programs even work with companies who specifically hire previously incarcerated individuals. The Work for Success Program in New York links qualified ex-offenders with about 1,300 companies looking to hire. The program has successfully placed more than 3,700 formerly incarcerated workers.

However, employment is not the only issue that ex-offenders may encounter upon their release. Most ex-offenders find that significant changes have occurred in their communities while they were incarcerated, which can be overwhelming to deal with on their own. Compounding this issue, although formerly incarcerated individuals may have a desire to make substantial lifestyle changes, family and friends may have maintained an unhelpful or even criminal lifestyle. So how does one still have a relationship with the people that they love without being lured back into their old lifestyle? That is the question that many newly released individuals ask.

One of the most important things for ex-offenders to do is to maintain a mindset of success. They should keep in mind the new goals they have assigned themselves and do what needs to be done to accomplish them without being re-incarcerated. Sometimes this means avoiding family and friends who are engaged in criminal activities or unhealthy behaviors. Instead, the focus should be on building relationships with individuals who do not demonstrate criminogenic characteristics. This is especially important for individuals who have struggled with substance abuse. These individuals should participate in local support groups because certain places or people from their past may trigger a relapse. The goal is not social isolation, but choosing a healthy peer group that will encourage the individual to maintain their healthier lifestyle and encourage the individual to strive to achieve their new goals.

Reintegrating into society may seem challenging at times for many ex-offenders. From lack of jobs to difficulty with negative interpersonal relationships, successful adjustment back into the community can seem difficult. However, with determination, prosocial action, and sufficient external support, post-incarceration can be a successful and empowering experience.

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