Supporting Formerly Incarcerated Individuals: Simple Ways to Get Involved During April's 'Second Chance Month'

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As mentioned in the White House proclamation on March 31, 2022, "Second Chance Month" is celebrated during April. It is meant to "reaffirm the importance of helping formerly incarcerated people re-enter society." In so many words, the celebration seeks to give opportunities to former inmates in the form of jobs, resources, training, and skills to support them in re-entering society following a period of incarceration.[i]

Though controversy surrounds the support of supposed "upgrades" and "luxury" provisions for prisoners, formerly incarcerated individuals are likely to struggle when attempting to re-enter society. Having a record, particularly a felony record, can mean difficulty finding housing and employment and trouble getting approved for credit, impacting an individual's ability to purchase practical necessities. This, combined with many prisoners' unrealistic expectations regarding their ability to support themselves following release, leads to a difficult re-entry for formerly incarcerated individuals.[ii]

Recidivism refers to the re-arrest, reconviction, or re-incarceration of an ex-offender within a specified period. Statistically, within three years of their release, 67.8% of ex-offenders are rearrested. Second Chance Month highlights the need to devote resources to preventing recidivism, providing diversion and treatment such as trauma-informed care and culturally specific services and social support. Formerly imprisoned inmates will need guidance once released from prison. [iii]

Society can help the transition, contributing to an overall healthier community where individuals are reintegrated instead of being seen as social pariahs or outcasts. Already many have faced major obstacles, likely to have impacted if not completely deteriorated their familial relationships. [iv]

As a result, President Joe Biden has called upon all government officials, volunteers, educators, and citizens nationwide to observe the month through appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. [v]

Participating in Appropriate Programs

Formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter society often without a family or support system to assist them on their journey. One way to participate in support of formerly incarcerated individuals is listening to the National Reentry Resource Center's Opening Remarks given annually on April 1, the first day of "Second Chance Month." During the remarks, a designated speaker comments on the month's organization and what it was founded upon.

Opening Remarks provide an essential starting point to understanding the reason behind Second Chance Month. These remarks introduce the program detailing the more than 30 live events open to the public. These events will zero in on reentry basics, employment, family support systems, understanding of youth and young adults, engagement within the community, sustainability, and constructive evaluation.[vi]

After viewing the Opening Remarks, take a moment to check out their expansive "Resources" page, which includes research and reports, briefs and funding opportunities, and free toolkits to assist in furthering the goals of Second Chance Month. [vii]

Viewing and Taking Part in Ceremonies

In addition to tuning in to the Opening Remarks and exploring their large array of free resources, participating in organized ceremonies is another way to participate and advocate for formerly imprisoned individuals. During the Opening Remarks, the speaker details the Second Chance Act Grant Program and describes sessions specifically for Second Chance Act grantees across the country.[vii]

The Second Chance Act is "first-of-its-kind legislation" due to receiving bipartisan support. The act authorizes federal investment into "[S]trategies to reduce recidivism . . . increase public safety. . . [and] reduce corrections costs." The ceremony honoring grantees honors those awarded a grant that can be used to assist an individual who is transitioning from incarceration into society. Up to $165 million in federal grants have been authorized to support funding Second Chance initiatives. [vii]

Transitioning and re-entering society is complicated, but the process becomes infinitely more complex without funding. As a result, ceremonies honoring grantees are a great way to get involved to see firsthand the community programs supporting the rehabilitation of formerly incarcerated individuals. The prison sentence should not continue outside the prison gates for those who have paid their debt to society and served their due time.

Volunteer for a Variety of Activities

Finally, the last way to participate is to volunteer for various activities. During April and throughout the rest of the year, there is always a need for volunteers, especially for nonprofit organizations. As a result, participating in activities is a community-centered involvement that provides a symbiotic benefit to each party involved. This is true even if volunteering specifically during April to support formerly imprisoned individuals.

One available activity is participating in any of the multitudes of webinars that provide knowledge and skills regarding keeping families connected during federal prison incarceration. Other classes teach prisoners how to develop culturally responsive behavior and are led by the National Reentry Resource Center.[viii] Understanding the need to link individuals with resources and teaching individuals interpersonal skills is critical to success when reintegrating into society following incarceration. Although evidence exists indicating such prison-based programs are beneficial, participation has unfortunately recently declined. [ix]

Overall, there are many ways that an individual can get involved with Second Chance Month. Participating in appropriate programs is one way, as is listening to the Opening Remarks detailing the scheduled events and remarking on the program, its goal, and the National Reentry Resource Center's model.

Additionally, viewing ceremonies of the Second Chance Act Grant grantees can help illustrate the direct impact of additional funding for an individual's successful reentry. Finally, participating in several activities allows individuals to volunteer with nonprofit organizations. These organizations typically need volunteers willing to donate their time and skills for the greater good. These three options are simple ways an individual can get involved in Second Chance Month and support formerly incarcerated individuals who re-enter society after imprisonment.

As a bonus, Prosper Strong Foundation in Columbia, South Carolina, has an entire section of its website dedicated to its "Second Chance Employers List," sharing the names of 47 known businesses that are willing to hire individuals with criminal records. So, if you want to start something in your area, this is a slight step further yet provides such additional benefit for those individuals reintegrating.

Why make more difficult what has likely already been a years-long uphill battle? Formerly incarcerated individuals deserve an equitable opportunity to reintegrate and become contributing members of society.

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References

[I] President Joseph R. Biden Jr, A Proclamation on Second Chance Month, 2022, (Mar. 31, 2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/03/31/a-proclamation-on-second-chance-month-2022/

[ii] Melissa, Li, From prisoners to communities: Confronting re-entry challenges and social inequality (Mar. 2018), https://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/indicator/2018/03/prisons-to-communities

[iii] Simmons University, The Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry Into Society, https://online.simmons.edu/blog/prisoner-reentry/

[iv] Melissa, Li, From prisoners to communities: Confronting re-entry challenges and social inequality (Mar. 2018), https://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/indicator/2018/03/prisons-to-communities

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] The National Re-Entry Resource Center, Toolkit Resources, https://nationalreentryresourcecenter.org/resources/toolkit

[viii] The National Re-Entry Resource Center, Webinars, https://nationalreentryresourcecenter.org/events/webinar

[ix] Simmons University, The Challenges of Prisoner Re-Entry Into Society, https://online.simmons.edu/blog/prisoner-reentry/

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Currently pursuing a Juris Doctor at Western State College of Law, freelance writer Charnell Gilchrist, a North Carolina native, now spends her free time writing in sunny Aliso Viejo, CA.

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