We are only as strong as our weakest link. That’s true whether we’re talking about our family, our sports team, our coworkers or our community. Everyone benefits when we help each other. It’s no different for returning citizens. 98% of all inmates will return home someday. The remaining 2% are usually the criminals with life sentences and our society has determined that they are unfit to live in common society. People go to prison for a reason. Many of them have greatly hurt the people around them. And many of them were in prison for probation violations, drug charges and white collar crimes. Our criminal laws are so diverse that you cannot automatically assume that someone with a felony conviction committed a violent crime. Although many have, many more have not. There has to be a balance between justice and mercy. A person who has spent years of their life idly sitting in prison has paid the price of justice. Leaving prison is a critical time for our community to accept that justice has been served and show mercy.
Maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe you’ve been hurt by a crime. Maybe you’re afraid of what a returning citizen might do when they are released. Those are all valid concerns. Mercy does not mean you have to let that person back into your life. It does not mean you forgo protecting yourself. The mercy we are talking about is, as a society, working together to help that person become self-sufficient instead of further punishing them by putting barriers in their way.
For the 98% that return, it’s a new attempt at being a productive and successful citizen. And we want them to succeed! Why? Because keeping them locked away hurts our entire community.
Mass Incarceration is a Financial Burden on our Communities
It costs about $33,000 to keep an inmate incarcerated for a year or about $90.45 a day. Multiply that by 67,000 people in jail or prison in 2018 and that’s $2.2 billion dollars per year just to keep people incarcerated! That’s $2.2 billion dollars of your taxes going towards keeping someone from being a productive member of society.
For every person that can reenter society successfully, we as North Carolinians can put that $33,000 towards something more. Towards much needed medical and mental health services, towards public transportation, towards road repair, towards education. Currently, North Carolina spends about $9,500 per student per year in education costs. What if we could flip those numbers? By helping returning citizens succeed, we have a chance at doing just that.
An Unsuccessful Reentry Can Mean More Crimes and Repeat Offenders
Recidivism means a person is arrested and returning to prison for a new offense. Most people who recidivate are because of a technical parole or probation violation. However, the criminal recidivism rate, meaning the person was arrested for a new offense, is 34% within 3 years. A third of all returning citizens will be arrested for another crime. That’s an abysmal statistic. But there are two things we as a community can do to help reduce those additional crimes: ongoing support and positive reinforcement.
Many returning citizens feels discriminated against. They are often rejected from jobs and housing because of their criminal record. If someone is told they are a bad person, or in this case a criminal, enough times they’ll begin to believe it and it will become part of their identity. This is part of what leads to additional crimes. But if we provide positive reinforcement and ongoing support to them, we can help them change the way they think. This is as simple as welcoming a returning citizen home when you see them, inviting them to participate in community events or even just saying hi whenever you see them. It’s the small things that have the greatest impact.
Family and Community Impact
Reducing incarceration and increasing successful reentry would allow us to keep building strong families and strong communities. It would improve the health and happiness of children and adults alike. Incarceration of a parent is one of ten adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) which can have both physical, social and emotional impacts on children. Incarceration often traps people in poverty, since many struggle to find a job that pays a living wage, which impacts every part of their live.
On a community level, having more people working improves the economy and it improves the quality and quantity of services in your area. Fewer people in prison reduces the financial strain of keeping them there. Successful reentry improves the lives of the family members and their neighbors. It can reduce the crime rate. Overall, successful reentry builds stronger communities.
We, as a society, want these people to succeed. We want them to trade in crime for a productive job. We want them to contribute to the community whether that’s making their own small business, volunteering or just keeping the shelves at your favorite grocery store stocked. We want them to have strong families, to help prevent their kids from making the same mistakes that they did. We want them to break the cycle of poverty and crime so everyone can be a little happier. All of this is possible. It just takes a little help from everyone. We can all start by understanding and abandoning our biases against those with a criminal record. We can all be a little more understanding and a little less judgmental. We can be a friend to those around us. Encourage those who are struggling. If you don’t know someone personally, you can advocate for returning citizens by how you talk about them to others, getting involved with a non-profit or donating to those who support them. Together we can build a safer community for everyone.
Want to Help?
There are many ways you can help us fight poverty in North Carolina:
Buy Our For Cause Coffee | NEW Grounds Coffee is our custom coffee blend. Every fresh cup supports a fresh start for a returning citizen. All profits go towards our NEW Reentry Program, which helps returning citizens find work and reintegrate successfully back into society.
Donate | We use your money to help run our programs, and provide training that helps organizations and individuals make their way to self-sufficiency. You can donate on our web page or find an agencies local to you.
Volunteer | We can’t do this alone. Join us! Find one of our agencies in your county and check out their website for volunteer opportunities.
Become a Member | Did you know you can become a Community Action Member? Membership provides discounted tickets to our various events, an inside look into our organization and more. Membership fees start at only $25 a year for an individual, or $300 for an agency.