Successful Reintegration Requires Community Support

Part 3 in a blog series exploring a community-based response to our criminality crisis

Curator’s note: Peterborough Dialogues welcomes Ralph Gutkin in a blog series exploring an alternative response to the criminality crisis which currently strains society financially and emotionally. His blogs will move through the depths of the concern into what can our region can do about it.

[A] stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point” — the definition of crisis that we looked at in the first post. A doubling of the cost in crime in 16 years, mounting research which documents the detrimental cost on children of witnessing a violent crime or of being brought up in a home with an incarcerated parent and our alarming rates of recidivism.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was recently celebrated. King is noted for his belief in the inter-connectedness of all humanity. When he was incarcerated, King wrote “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.

The rational argument for putting money and resources into an appropriate response to deal with the reintegration of offenders is well articulated in a blog posted about four years ago in the Huffington Post, The Employment of Ex-Offenders is Important to Everyone*:

“It’s tempting not to think about folks getting out of prison, returning to our neighborhoods. If you’ve never been to prison, it’s easy to be suspicious and dismissive of those who have. If you find yourself having to deal in some way with folks getting out of prison, it’s tempting to go out of your way to avoid it as much as possible. It’s tempting to think of ex-prisoners as bound up with trouble, and of their return as bad news. It’s tempting to turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, a cold shoulder. But people are getting out of prison and returning to our community all the time.

Their return is inevitable; it’s not whether people return from prison, but how they return. Successfully or unsuccessfully. Despite our temptation to ignore them and their plight, their successful return is important to all of us…. Each of these persons is someone’s brother, someone’s mother, someone’s child, and they are all members of our community…

They face, though, an uphill and almost insurmountable battle. Many emerge from prison without much more than the shirts on their backs and their criminal records. And the circumstances to which ex-offenders would return may not be conducive to good choices and positive opportunities. Too often, the circumstances they were in before they were incarcerated — lack of education, little to no income, minimal or no employment experience, impoverished neighborhoods with scarce economic opportunity and prevalence of criminal activity — are the circumstances to which, without intervention, they will likely have little choice but to return to.

But, return they will. And what does an unsuccessful return look like? Unemployment. Homelessness. Destitution. Desperation. Altogether undesirable conditions for our community. But the greatest of these is unemployment. More than anything else, the difficulty an ex-offender faces in gaining employment correlates with recidivism. Conversely, the best predictor of a successful return from prison is employment. Those who return from prison and get jobs are far more likely to keep from going back to prison. If an ex-offender can get a job, so many of the other important factors for a successful return fall into place: income, housing, food are some of the obvious tangible benefits, and self-esteem, a structured lifestyle, and a foothold for the future are equally if not more profoundly impactful.”

Einstein is quoted as saying that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Our approach to many facets of the criminal justice system, including what we do to prepare the incarcerated for their return to society, has not been, and is, not working. It can only be categorized as insensitive, insane or likely a combination of the two. Experience and research tells us that employment (and particularly one avenue thereof) can make a substantial difference. In the posts to follow, I will briefly canvass some of those programs and introduce the one approach that seems to hold the most promise of making things significantly better for everyone.

*Read the article in its entirety here: The Employment of Ex-Offenders is Important to Everyone

Part 1 — Exploring a Community-based Response to our Criminality Crisis

Part 2 — Understanding Systemic Contributors to Crime and Recidivism 

Part 4 — The Rehabilitative Impact Of Social Enterprises

Part 5 — A Co-operative Approach to Reintegration

Part 6 — Worker Co-op Model Proving Supportive of Rehabilitation

Part 7 — The Resilience of and Success Markers for Worker Co-ops

Part 8 — A ‘Delicious Idea’ for a Worker Co-op In Peterborough

Part 9 — Co-creating a Restorative Community