Post originally published on Change.org
It’s 3 a.m. in the middle of winter. You are dropped off at a subway station and given a pass for one ride. You have no money, no one to call, and only the clothes on your back, which consist of shorts and a t-shirt. What do you do?
This is the question sometimes faced by persons leaving prison in New York City. Recidivism, or repeated criminal activity, is one of the most tragic and economically costly occurrences in our society. But when a person serves her time and then is released back into society years later without proper emotional preparation or economic resources, how can we expect her to establish herself?
The scenario above is real. If someone is arrested during the summer months and released during the winter months, she literally returns to society with the clothes on her back, no matter how weather-inappropriate they are. This is beyond inhumane — and just might be the first step towards recidivism as this person may have no other option than to commit another crime to survive.
To assist lawmakers in tackling this challenging issue, the Reentry Policy Council of the Council of State Governments Justice Center recently issued a report entitled “Reentry Housing Options: The Policymakers’ Guide” (pdf). The report notes that “[s]tudies have shown that the first month after release is a vulnerable period ’during which the risk of becoming homeless and/or returning to criminal justice involvement is high.’” Newly released persons face an extreme shortage of affordable housing resources. “Without a stable residence, it is nearly impossible for newly released individuals to reconnect positively to a community.”
In tough situations, survival instincts take over and people do what they need to do to survive. We’re not condoning criminal behavior, we’re just pointing out the reality of this horrible situation, and trying to imagine what it would be like to walk in a former’s prisoner’s shoes in that moment. If a person is raised in the streets and only knows the streets as a resource to get what she needs, she might return to that behavior, even if it means doing something that’s against the law.
This report examines three approaches to improving the availability of affordable housing: “(1) creating greater access to existing housing units (for example, by improving housing placement services), (2) increasing the number of housing units made available specifically for the reentry population (new construction or conversion of existing units), and (3) engaging in a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization effort that includes, at its core, a plan to expand services and supports, including affordable housing, to at-risk populations.” All are viable options, though it’s hard to imagine communities welcoming housing developments for former offenders.
This report and its goals are vital to reentry services. If implemented, they will not only help rehabilitate those who served their time in prison, they will also help society as well. For the individual, the suggested changes could provide basic services that can help prevent further crimes from being committed — like, well, sweatpants and winter coats. For society, the potential decrease in crime can benefit everyone and save tax money that currently goes to our criminal justice system.
To read the post on Change.org, please click here.