FROM THE DESK OF
Christine Cole, Executive Director
Making mistakes is part of life, and for most of us, so are second chances. We screw up, we learn, we make amends, and we’re able to move on without having our lives derailed.
But far too many people don’t have that luxury.
For some, even relatively small missteps that might be brushed off as youthful indiscretions or momentary lapses in judgment for others lead to severe consequences. Too often, especially for those who are poor or people of color – or both – this disparity can lead to involvement in the justice system and potentially a lifetime of limited access to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. It also perpetuates destructive multi-generational cycles of poverty and incarceration.
April is Second Chance Month, which highlights the barriers individuals with a criminal record face and seeks to strengthen efforts to break down those barriers. Prison Fellowship, a nonprofit organization supporting individuals who are currently or formerly incarcerated and their families, launched Second Chance Month in 2017, and it has since been endorsed by the Trump and Biden administrations, as well as many state and local jurisdictions throughout the country.
No one should be judged for an entire lifetime on their last worst act. Individuals who’ve paid for their mistakes should be able to move on with their lives without facing unending roadblocks that hamstring their futures – especially when those roadblocks increase the chances that they’ll end up back in the justice system all over again.
Research shows that second chances in the form of reentry services that help with the transition back home after incarceration, as well as increased access to jobs, housing, and education, reduce recidivism and the financial costs associated with re-incarcerating people. They also reduce the enormous and devastating social costs to their families and communities.
Through advocacy, legislation, and support, there has been enormous progress in expanding access to second chances. But there’s still much that needs to be done.
So where do we start?
Some of areas most in need of reform include eliminating barriers to housing for individuals with a criminal record, as well as the widespread use fines and fees that effectively criminalize poverty. Also, across the country there is a severe lack of community-based behavioral health services, which places significant burdens on the justice system to fill these gaps.
Additionally, federal, state, and local leaders need to improve availability and access to behavioral health services while also increasing access to employment and educational options for returning individuals. And overly punitive sentencing structures continue to use incarceration at alarming rates with periods in prison far exceeding any retributive or rehabilitative goals.
If state and federal goals include reducing recidivism, then supporting individuals at reentry is key. Policies and resources should be aligned to achieve these goals.