According to prisonpolicy.org, formerly incarcerated individuals face an “alarming” joblessness rate. According to one of their studies, 65% of respondents were still without a job 4 years after their release from prison.
This rate of joblessness among the formerly incarcerated can contribute to a downward spiral of mental health issues, drug use, and even often reincarceration. Unfortunately, it is a cycle that many formerly incarcerated individuals often cannot find their way out of.
But by including this marginalized group in the wider DEI discussion, a spotlight can be given to their unique needs, and a plan can be developed to address those needs and break the cycle many find themselves caught within.
Reintegration challenges for formerly incarcerated people
Upwards of 700,000 people are released from prison every year in the United States, with a staggering 9 million people released from jails after stints ranging from a few hours to over a year. Every one of these people is released needing direction, a plan, and some assistance to get back on the right track. Many of them face the same reintegration challenges and find themselves unsure of where to turn for the help they so desperately need.
Employment, as we saw from the statistics above, is one of the biggest barriers to post-incarceration success. In statistics provided by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, it was found that 93% of those who were able to secure employment following their time in prison were able to follow that up with a successful reintegration back into their communities and did not return to prison. From these numbers, it is clear that helping formerly incarcerated individuals find gainful, meaningful employment is a significant stepping stone to their ultimate success.
Education is another challenge for reintegration. For instance, an Omnibus Crime Bill passed in 1994 stripped away access to Pell Grants for incarcerated students. This access was not reinstated until 2021, leaving incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals 27 years behind others who had better access to higher education.
Furthermore, almost 40% of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals over the age of 18 have not graduated from high school. The problem comes down to accessibility and educating the public on what has been kept from these individuals, as well as what can be done to bridge the gap.
In addition to education and employment, housing is also a concern for formerly incarcerated individuals, as public housing authorities and managers are allowed to consider the criminal history of someone before agreeing to rent to that person. Although this allowance was meant to keep people safe from dangerous criminals, many public housing managers have adopted policies that apply blanket rules to tenant screening, leaving many formerly incarcerated individuals out in the cold literally and figuratively.
Other issues that contribute to formerly incarcerated individuals feeling discriminated against include the stripping of voting rights and the social and community stigma attached to having served time. All of these factors take an immense toll on the mental health and wellness of these individuals, who frequently begin to lose hope for their future after facing such inequality.
The impact of incarceration on mental health
Incarceration and the hardships experienced post-incarceration can lead to mental health concerns or exacerbate concerns that were already present. Because incarcerated individuals are removed from society and their families — and forced to live within a formed community built around corrections and punitive measures — they can often experience depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.
Common occurrences within prisons, such as periods of solitary confinement, overcrowding, violence, and squalid living conditions, can make these mental health issues far worse. Were that not enough, they also tend to follow formerly incarcerated individuals as they leave prison behind and attempt to start a new life on the other side.
Experts have likened the mental health issues experienced by formerly incarcerated individuals to PTSD, dubbing it “Post Incarceration Syndrome”. A keen understanding and education on these issues unique to previously incarcerated individuals is integral to changing the trajectory for many of these people, as they often require mental health resources fashioned around their particular needs and experiences.
Advocacy and inclusion
To change the way formerly incarcerated individuals experience life beyond prison, there must be community-based support for their needs. DEI initiatives need to be expanded to include this community, and blanket approaches to housing and employment policy need to be changed to account for personalization and individualized nuance.
Communities and advocates should promote programs that help formerly incarcerated people ease back into society with job training, access to educational opportunities, and resources to find available, affordable, and safe housing. Much of the mental health and wellness concerns with formerly incarcerated individuals come hand-in-hand with the uncertainty of securing the basics of living within a community, including food, shelter, and employment prospects.
There is absolutely a clear cycle that can pull formerly incarcerated individuals down just as they attempt to rebuild their lives. One wrong turn or missed opportunity begets another, until many begin to experience the serious mental health issues that plague this marginalized group or end up reoffending.
More education and advocacy is needed to shine a light on the particular needs of formerly incarcerated people. Through these avenues of better information and opportunities, more people can live full lives post-incarceration and turn the tides on instances of mental health issues, substance abuse, and reincarceration.
Trent Griffin-Braaf is the CEO & Founder of Tech Valley Shuttle and GB Logistics. His mission is to combat poverty through transportation solutions and employee empowerment. As a former incarcerated person, he is leading the way for other employers to learn how to become an employer of choice for formerly incarcerated persons, single parents, and veterans.
Frequently asked questions
- What is DEI for formerly incarcerated individuals?
- DEI for formerly incarcerated individuals involves the inclusion of this group in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts to aid their successful reintegration into society.
- Why is employment crucial for formerly incarcerated individuals?
- Employment post-incarceration provides stability, reduces the chances of reoffending, and plays a key role in successful community reintegration.
- How does education impact the reintegration process?
- Limited access to education for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals contributes to their reintegration challenges, hampering opportunities for employment and social inclusion.
- Why is housing a significant issue for formerly incarcerated individuals?
- Housing policies often consider criminal history, creating barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals to secure stable, safe accommodation post-release.
- What is Post Incarceration Syndrome?
- Post Incarceration Syndrome refers to mental health issues akin to PTSD, often experienced by formerly incarcerated individuals due to their unique experiences and challenges.