Life after incarceration

This infographic was last updated on August 31, 2017

In Philadelphia, an estimated one in six people have been incarcerated. After serving time, people then face the process of reentry: becoming a part of the society they had been isolated from for months, years, or decades. Prisoners typically get little, if any, preparation for this transition or for life on the outside. The only centralized system that directs formerly incarcerated people to resources that aid in building successful lives is probation and parole, departments whose primary duty is monitoring and controlling behavior. Detention facilities in the U.S. have become a revolving door: more likely than not, those let out end up back inside.

Yet every day, people are released–and are determined to beat those odds.

I know I never want to land myself back in anybody’s penitentiary, anybody’s jail, anybody’s institution.

- Ismael Nazario

Upon leaving prison, formerly incarcerated people face many challenges as they reintegrate into the community.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?

Mental health

According to multiple studies, trauma is the norm among incarcerated people in the United states.

Seventy three percent of incarcerated women and 55 percent of incarcerated men have at least one mental health problem.

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Probation and parole

After incarceration, the newly released are subject to an average of 1,070 state rules and regulations including mandatory check-in’s, the ability to vote and family and domestic rights — then add 1,196 federal rules. There are 865 sanctions for formerly incarcerated people in Pennsylvania.

PO meetings are not necessarily in locations close to the former offender’s home and held during times when people are expected to be at work, taking care of their family or attending appointments like therapy, mental health and medical care.

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Employment

Criminal records make it much more difficult to find a job. It’s estimated that 92 percent of employers in the United States initially screen for criminal backgrounds.

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Full inclusion in society

People with criminal histories often encounter numerous other obstacles that prevent them from becoming full and productive members of society.

For example, more than half US states put some restrictions on the voting rights of people who have done time. Formerly incarcerated people often struggle with debt, a lack of financial literacy, and unfamiliarity with basic technology. Mothers and fathers who have been released and want to reunite with their children have to jump through complicated hoops to regain custody. There is also an entrenched stigma that colors the interactions the formerly incarcerated have with others in society on a daily basis.

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Education

In correctional facilities nationwide, more than half of incarcerated people have not finished high school — that’s 56 percent of inmates in federal prisons, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails.

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Housing

Four out of five landlords screen for criminal records.

One in four people who leave prison become homeless.

Federal law lists only two crimes as a basis for permanent denial from public housing, but local housing authorities are able to add their own restrictions and criminal background checks to screen possible tenants.

Read More

Mental health

According to multiple studies, trauma is the norm among incarcerated people in the United states.

Seventy three percent of incarcerated women and 55 percent of incarcerated men have at least one mental health problem.

Read More

Probation and parole

After incarceration, the newly released are subject to an average of 1,070 state rules and regulations including mandatory check-in’s, the ability to vote and family and domestic rights — then add 1,196 federal rules. There are 865 sanctions for formerly incarcerated people in Pennsylvania.

PO meetings are not necessarily in locations close to the former offender’s home and held during times when people are expected to be at work, taking care of their family or attending appointments like therapy, mental health and medical care.

Read More

Employment

Criminal records make it much more difficult to find a job. It’s estimated that 92 percent of employers in the United States initially screen for criminal backgrounds.

Read More

Education

In correctional facilities nationwide, more than half of incarcerated people have not finished high school — that’s 56 percent of inmates in federal prisons, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails.

Read More

Full inclusion in society

People with criminal histories often encounter numerous other obstacles that prevent them from becoming full and productive members of society.

For example, more than half US states put some restrictions on the voting rights of people who have done time. Formerly incarcerated people often struggle with debt, a lack of financial literacy, and unfamiliarity with basic technology. Mothers and fathers who have been released and want to reunite with their children have to jump through complicated hoops to regain custody. There is also an entrenched stigma that colors the interactions the formerly incarcerated have with others in society on a daily basis.

Read More

Housing

Four out of five landlords screen for criminal records.

One in four people who leave prison become homeless.

Federal law lists only two crimes as a basis for permanent denial from public housing, but local housing authorities are able to add their own restrictions and criminal background checks to screen possible tenants.

Read More

Mental health

According to multiple studies, trauma is the norm among incarcerated people in the United states.

Seventy three percent of incarcerated women and 55 percent of incarcerated men have at least one mental health problem.

Read More

Probation and parole

After incarceration, the newly released are subject to an average of 1,070 state rules and regulations including mandatory check-in’s, the ability to vote and family and domestic rights — then add 1,196 federal rules. There are 865 sanctions for formerly incarcerated people in Pennsylvania.

PO meetings are not necessarily in locations close to the former offender’s home and held during times when people are expected to be at work, taking care of their family or attending appointments like therapy, mental health and medical care.

Read More

Employment

Criminal records make it much more difficult to find a job. It’s estimated that 92 percent of employers in the United States initially screen for criminal backgrounds.

Read More

Education

In correctional facilities nationwide, more than half of incarcerated people have not finished high school — that’s 56 percent of inmates in federal prisons, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails.

Read More

Full inclusion in society

People with criminal histories often encounter numerous other obstacles that prevent them from becoming full and productive members of society.

For example, more than half US states put some restrictions on the voting rights of people who have done time. Formerly incarcerated people often struggle with debt, a lack of financial literacy, and unfamiliarity with basic technology. Mothers and fathers who have been released and want to reunite with their children have to jump through complicated hoops to regain custody. There is also an entrenched stigma that colors the interactions the formerly incarcerated have with others in society on a daily basis.

Read More

Housing

Four out of five landlords screen for criminal records.

One in four people who leave prison become homeless.

Federal law lists only two crimes as a basis for permanent denial from public housing, but local housing authorities are able to add their own restrictions and criminal background checks to screen possible tenants.

Read More

Recidivism

Recidivism refers to a process in which a previously incarcerated person has repeated contact with the criminal justice system. Depending on the context, “recidivism” can refer to re-incarceration, rearrest and/or reconviction.

68%

of people released from prison in the United States are rearrested within three years.

60%

of people released from prison in Pennsylvania are rearrested within three years.

58%

of people released from the Philadelphia prison system will return within three years.

THIS AFFECTS ALL OF US

ONE IN THREE adults in the United States has a criminal record and the numbers are similar in Philadelphia.

Even if you or your family aren’t in this group, this touches your life.

Why?

Well, we all pay for prisons.

In Philadelphia, prison operation and maintenance in 2018 is budgeted at

$259 Million

As jail populations shrink, costs don’t necessarily come down. But those who leave prison become tax payers. It’s estimated that employing 100 formerly incarcerated people could increase Philadelphia’s revenue base by $47,800 each year, or $1.9 MILLION in their lifetime.

Also, it's about safety.

Based on the evidence, locking up more people and for longer makes us less safe — not more. In New York City, serious crime dropped by 58 percent in 10 years, and in the same amount of time, incarceration dropped by
55%

SO WHAT'S BEING DONE?

Integrating returning citizens into the workforce is vital to growing Philadelphia’s economy, providing opportunity to all residents, and reducing poverty levels.

- Mayor Jim Kenney

Philadelphia has implemented, revamped and pursued programs to reform the city’s criminal justice system and help returning citizens reenter society.

Aside from the city’s programs, there are more than 70 service providers with resources for returning citizens.

Philadelphia - click each event to learn more

June 22, 2017

Philadelphia's Fair Chance Hiring Initiative encourages commercial businesses located in Philadelphia to hire formerly incarcerated people by providing a reimbursement of $5 per hour worked by the employee for up to $5,000. This new program replaces a similar tax-incentive introduced in 2006, but virtually no businesses took advantage of the program.

June 1, 2017

City Council formally dedicated June as Reentry Awareness Month in Philadelphia. The resolutioin was co-sponsored by Counil members Kenyatta Johnson and Curtis Jones Jr. and further supported by Council members Jannie Blackwell, Helen Gym and Derek Green. The resolution further solidified a 2015 resolution that recognized June of that year as Reentry Month.

April 14, 2016

A $3.5 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation began Philadelphia's attempt to reduce its prison population by 34 percent. Since then, the city's prison population has dropped almost 18 percent. Included in this is an experiment with alternative detainers, through which those under community supervision receive treatment, rather than being locked up, when they violate certain terms of their parole.

March 14, 2016

Philadelphia expanded its "Ban the Box" law to make it harder for employers to screen applicants based on their criminal record. Any employers doing business in Philadelphia are not allowed to ask any questions about criminal records on job applications, and can only run a background check after making a conditional offer of employment. The only exemptions are for certain criminal justice agencies and positions that, by federal law, require a consideration of criminal history.

October 2015

The Philadelphia Reentry Coalition launched Home for Good, a 5-year countywide plan to tackle the issue of reentry in the city. The goal of the plan is to reduce the recidivism rate in Philadelphia by 25 percent during the next 5 years.

February 2012

The Philadelphia Reentry Coalition was initially started when the Philadelphia County Criminal Justice Advisory Board established a subcommittee that focused on reentry efforts throughout the county. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of PA hosted leadership from federal, state, and local levels representing the judiciary, corrections, probation, defense, prosecution, and other key stakeholders, to address the growing concern that reentry efforts in Philadelphia needed to be better coordinated.

Pennsylvania

June 28, 2017

The Pennsylvania State Senate unanimously passed a bill that would automatically seal criminal records for nonviolent misdemeanors for people who have remained crime-free for 10 years. The legislation still has to be passed in the state's House of Representatives before it becomes policy. Gov. Tom Wolf said he would sign the bill into law.

June 26, 2017

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that in order to sentence a minor to life in prison, prosecutors are required to prove that the minor is unable to be rehabilitated beyond a reasonable doubt. Pennsylvania has the largest juvenile lifer population in the entire country. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that life without parole for minors was unconstitutional, changing Pennsylvania's policy of automatic life without parole for anyone convicted of first or second degree murder.

June 22, 2017

State legislators are working on a bill to reform public school discipline practices -- which are largely up to interpretation and result in disparities in how different demographic groups are treated.

June 7, 2017

The state's Department of Corrections extended its contract with a company that provides video-based visitation for the friends and families of people who are incarcerated. The program helps them save money, as it costs less than a physical trip to the State Correctional Institutions. In December, the contract will expire, but the Department of Correction plans to transition to its own system of virtual visitation by then.

May 15, 2017

Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Gov. Tom Wolf announced the Pennsylvania Reentry Council, which will connect the state Department of Corrections, Board of Probation and Parole, the Commission on Crime and Delinquency and more than 21 other regional reentry coalitions and reentry service providers. The Council will be a central way for those organizations to work together to tackle the state's issues with reentry.

May 1, 2017

Starting in May, Pennsylvania changed its policy regarding Medicaid coverage for incarcerated people. Instead of their Medicaid coverage getting terminated and forcing them to reapply for coverage after release, returning citizens' coverage is instead suspended during incarceration. This means that upon release, Medicaid coverage should be restored when the correctional facilities process the release paperwork.

April 4, 2017

State officials announced their plan to reduce the number of jailed Pennsylvanians who have a mental illness. In the coming years, several state departments and the Stepping Up Initiative will examine how people with mental illnesses interact with the criminal justice system and what gets them there. That data collection will serve as the foundation for how to address that population.

LEARN MORE

SHARE YOUR
STORY

Have you or someone you know faced challenges returning from prison back into the community?

What do you think are the keys to successful reentry?

Text ‘I have a story’ to 215-821-9790 or call and leave us a message, and we’ll get back to you soon.

Built and produced by Julie Christie for The Reentry Project. Researched by Julie Christie and Jean Friedman-Rudovsky.

Corrections? Contact The Reentry Project at thereentryprojectphl@gmail.com.

Sources

“ReEntry Project: Stories About Life After Incarceration from PhillyCAM” on Vimeo. Edited by WHYY/Newsworks.

The Leadership Conference Education Fund Reentry Fact Sheet.

Alliance for Excellent Education “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings” September 2013.

“By the numbers: Mental illness behind bars” by Sarah Varney, Kaiser Health News for PBS Newshour.

Home For Good: 5-Year Countywide Plan to Improve Reentry in Philadelphia.

Durose, Matthew R., Alexia D. Cooper, and Howard N. Snyder, Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive Report 2016.

Penn Live “Pennsylvania prison recidivism rates drop to historic lows.”

National Institute of Justice National Statistics on Recidivism.

Philadelphia Department of Commerce “City of Philadelphia Launches Fair Chance Hiring Initiative.”

Philly.com “Pa. Senate passes first-of-its-kind bill sealing some criminal records.”

Philly.com “Pennsylvania’s top court just made it way harder to sentence kids to life in prison.”

The Philadelphia Notebook “Pa. Guidelines for school discipline may change.”

Generocity “How Philly is revitalizing a widely unused tax credit program for hiring returning citizens.”

Billy Penn “Like Skype for prisons: How tech is used in PA for virtual inmate visitation.”

The Philadelphia Citizen “Taking on Recidivism.”

Philly.com “Can Pennsylvania find a way out for thousands of mentally ill inmates languashing in county jails?”

Billy Penn “How Philly won millions to fix its overcrowded prisons.”

Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations “Changes to Ban the Box Law.”

Pennsylvania Department of Human Services “Suspension of Medical Assistance (MA) Benefits for Recipients Who Have Been Incarcerated.”

The Atlantic “How Minor Probation Violations Can Lead to Major Jail Time.”

Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of the Justice The National Inventory of Collateral Consequences of Conviction.

Vera Institute of Justice Accounting for Violence.

Society for Human Resource Management "Background Checking: Conducting Criminal Background Checks"

ProCon.org "Map of State Felon Voting Laws

City of Philadelphia Open Budget