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New approaches for formerly incarcerated are dire

3 mins read

A Better Re-Entry

The release of Ava Duvernay’s documentary, 13th, provided an insightful break down of the prison pipeline, but now we need to focus on when those people who are incarcerated come back to their communities. In many ways, the communities are woefully under-prepared.

Although the criminal justice reform is necessary for a number of reasons in the United States at this time, the needs for proper reintegration policies are just as necessary.  While the criminal justice reform policy focuses on lower level drug offenders, it must not be forgotten that while incarcerated, this population has been criminalized.

The trauma that is experienced during incarceration, federal or otherwise will remain upon and after release, as will the stigma from the general public of being formerly incarcerated.  Attitudes and social norms do not instantly adjust to policy shifts, it takes time and effort.  It also takes the inclusion of policies that allow for those societal norms to authentically shift into everyday practices.

Time must given to the returning citizen to heal before returning to the community. Workforce and educational programs must be put into place, as well mental health and wellness initiatives that allow the returning citizen to cope with the life changes that he or she had to endure including the loss of freedom, family, and ability to be self-sustaining.

To a large extent, many of the 6000 released will have to “re-learn” society.  And, they will remain “ex-offenders” to those who must welcome them back into their homes and communities.  Those family members and communities must also have some recourse in terms of how to best assist returning citizens on how to participate in those communities without further criminalizing those who have been “set-free” without the proper means to participate.

Dr. Rolanda West is a professor who focuses on social justice and prisoner re-entry.

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