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Unv 104 Expository - the Reality of Reintegration for Inmates Coming Back into Society

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David Purtz

UNV-104

10/25/15

Jolene Daw

The Reality of Reintegration for Inmates Coming Back into Society

With crime levels back on the rise in most of the United States, many are beginning to look at the current justice system and what policies regarding prison sentences have had as a result, both to inmates and to society as a whole.  Starting in the 1980’s, the focus on finding solutions for an epidemic wave of increased crime (especially drug-related crimes in the large inner cities) helped create a number of key laws and mandatory prison sentencing.  Now, some thirty years after, there are now many studies that have been conducted that help to see what these laws and prison sentencing have to do with the success or failure of the people who are being released back into society.  A prison sentence has different effects on an inmate’s reintegration into society, which vary greatly and depend on factors of gender, race and the societal bias against ex-convicts.

One factor that has a large effect on the reintegration of an inmate back into society is their gender.  Women differ from men in how they cope with the circumstances they face while in prison, how they adjust to life after prison, the challenges they face and their services and needs that can help them be successful upon returning to society.  For women that are released and are in the process of reintegration, the differences in their needs from the needs of men are for reasons such as victimization, substance addiction, economic marginality and mental illness (Cobbina, 2010).  Interpersonal relationships between female inmates and their families, their supervising officers, or any other people that are considered as support also have a great deal of influence in the success or failure of inmates after being released from prison.

Another factor which has an effect on reintegration is race.  In the United States, the rate of African-American men being imprisoned in comparison to white men is 6.5 times higher (Forman, Jr., 2012).  The much higher incarceration rates for African-Americans has led to a societal assumption that a particular group (black, young, and male) is a much higher threat, leading to discrimination in all areas that are crucial to reintegration back into society, such as housing and employment.  This makes it even harder for African-Americans and others minorities of color as opposed to whites in being able to successfully reintegrate back into society and not fall back into crime, which ultimately leads back into jail.  As Forman, Jr. (2012, p. 21) states, “Like a black person living under the Old Jim Crow, a convicted criminal today becomes a member of stigmatized caste, condemned to a lifetime of second-class citizenship.”

Finally, the bias and prejudice against former inmates that is associated with a prison sentence has the largest effect and lasts the longest amount of time against those who are reintegrating back into society.  The collateral damages are named as such for the impact that they have long after an inmate is released from prison, such as the inability to find employment opportunities or being denied for housing or government benefits.  This has created a system in which those who have served their time and paid their debt to society (at least in the eyes of the Justice System) for crimes committed are then faced with a prison in the outside world as well, with their record being used to identify them and with diminished rights as citizens.  Unlike the other factors mentioned, the damage that this causes is not isolated to any particular group or minority. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said “the consequences of a criminal conviction can remain long after someone has served his or her sentence...making a proper transition into society difficult” (Love, 2015, p. 249).

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