The successful transformation and reintegration of former convicts into society should be the goal of any criminal justice system. But before any attempt can be made to effectively prepare prisoners for reentry into society, it is essential to understand their predicament, and the challenges they are likely to face upon release from prison. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 600,000 individuals get released from prison every year, and 75% of them are re-incarcerated within 5 years. Individuals released from prison receive inadequate resources and assistance and minimal preparation, making their reentry into society challenging. A criminal conviction limits public housing assistance, social services, and employment prospects. Even minor criminal records may create significant barriers and collateral consequences. It is essential to reinvent the current criminal justice system to change the focus from the reincarceration of former inmates to successful reentry into society. Socioeconomic factors play a central role in influencing re-entry outcomes.
A major challenge that ex-convicts face is re-entry into the labor market. Released individuals have a difficult time finding and maintaining employment after re-entry because firms are reluctant to hire individuals with criminal records. In addition to a criminal record, a lack of employment history, limited education, and the stigma of incarceration contribute to limited opportunities for employment. Most states allow firms to deny employment opportunities to people who were previously arrested, even if they were never convicted of a crime. More often than not, the only employment opportunities available to released prisoners are low-skill jobs in the manufacturing industry, maintenance, wholesale, or food service. These employment opportunities offer little benefits and few to no advancement opportunities. Furthermore, ex-convicts who manage to find jobs are offered lower wages than they earned prior to their conviction. Previously convicted individuals also experience barriers in the private and public job sectors because they are unable to obtain technical and professional licenses. When limited resources and legal employment opportunities are available, people who are re-entering their societies are more likely to re-offend.
Individuals re-entering society also face challenges in finding and securing housing. Residential instability is a high-risk factor which may lead to homelessness for re-entering individuals. When most people are released from prison, they have little to no money for securing an apartment. In addition, strict housing policies limit housing opportunities for these individuals. Presently, private market rental housing associations have issued policy guidance restricting the renting of houses to individuals with a criminal record. Also, individuals with a former felony or drug conviction are not eligible for public housing. Studies have shown that the first month after being released from prison is a vulnerable time during which the risk of recidivism and homelessness is high. In fact, without stable housing re-entering individuals are more likely to be arrested. Making housing opportunities affordable and creating lenient housing policies can smoothen an individual’s re-entry back into their society and is a crucial factor in preventing recidivism.