Often when offenders are released from prison, they suffer; financial difficulties, addictions to drugs/alcohol, little support from family/friends, unemployment, homelessness, little to no rehabilitation, little life skills, little risk/self management skills. Youths often learn better criminal skills in prison, return to their neighbourhood with negative peer influences and many times poverty, neglectful/abusive parents, the prevalence of drugs/alcohol and gangs, etc.
Transitioning from the controlled prison environment, which has a structured and strict routine and rules, to the community, is very challenging and difficult for offenders. In prison, pro-criminal attitudes/behaviours/values, drugs, alcohol, gangs, negative influences and the prison subculture/inmate code are prevalent. Inmates with mental illnesses or addictions or gang ties are often more negatively influenced by these things. Often in prisons, rehabilitation programs have long waiting lists and/or are ineffective, as the skills learned cannot be incorportated by inmates due to the counteractive prison subculture. This is also problematic as many inmates are released with little rehabilitation, little life skills, risk management skills, etc. and they often leave with more knowledge about avoiding detection after committing a criminal act. Prisons are widely known as the "schools of crime."
Those individuals who are mentally ill, addicts, non-violent, property or drug offenders should not be imprisoned, but instead receive community sentences, as they are often more negatively impacted by the prison environment.
When re-entering the community after serving a prison sentence, offenders need more assistance, support and guidance. They cannot simply be released with vague conditions and no support or resources. The majority of those incarcerated, will be released back into society and therefore, we need to do what is in society's best interests and that means rehabilitation, restoration and reform of the individual. Many inmates are released after serving two thirds of their sentence. Many entered prison with little employment experience or education, addictions, history of childhood abuse/neglect, come from an impoverished background/poverty, have mental health issues, negative peer influences and gang ties (in order to feel a sense of belonging and identity that are missing from their home life). Many are incarcerated hundreds of miles from their families (especially if the individual is Aboriginal and their family lives in a remote reserve) with little opportunity to maintain relationships. After living in a negative, controlled and structured environment for up to many years, it is extremely challenging for inmates to re-enter society. Instead of learning how to reform their thinking/behaviour and change their lifestyles, many offenders adopt dangerous behaviours in order to cope in a toxic prison culture of violence, gang activity and idleness. Once their time is done, they must re-adjust to modern society, restore their relationships with their family, locate a home, find gainful employment, and deal with addictions that led to many of their convictions in the first place. Longer prison sentences have been proven to increase the chances of re-offending and decrease the likelihood of successful reintegration.
Transitioning from prison to our communities is a daunting challenge, which many offenders are ill-equipped to tackle. Many ex-offenders are woefully unprepared to navigate the challenges of re-entry. In a culture slow to understand why prisoners should have a second chance, they will end up homeless, unable to find sufficient work, in need of substance abuse treatment and most critical of all, without a support group to assist them. The recdivism rates are high for offenders being released from prison and in some cases, has been reported at 100% for young offenders! That means prisons are not fulfilling their purposes of rehabilitation and reform. The most recent data from 2007 shows that 75% of adult inmates released from provincial jails in Manitoba were charged with another offence within two years of completing their sentence. The numbers include charges for new offences and for breaching conditions of release. This is an astonishingly high number and confirms that our courts/corrections systems have evolved into a revolving door of justice where criminals re-offend over and over again. The 75% recidivism rate of 2007 is the highest in at least 5 years, which means the problem is getting worse, not better. Something must change. The recidivism rates for young offenders were even more staggering. In a three month period from April-June 2006, 100% of young offenders released from youth custody were charged with another offence within 2 years. That means every young offender in MB who completed a jail sentence between April 1 and June 30 that year, was charged with another offence within the following two years. That is an incredible statistic and a glaring example of what a massive failure our justice system is. What is equally startling, is that not once has the recidivism rate for young offenders in custody dropped below 75% since 2002! Most quarters it ranged between 80-95%, which is a horrible record. The stated objective of the Youth Criminal Justice Act is to rehabilitate young criminals and help them transform their lives while supporting successful reintegration. It's obviously not working. Prisons are quick fixes, but not long term solutions and they fail at rehabilitation, reform and addressing the root causes and contributing factors to crime, such as mental illness, addictions, peer influences, abuse, neglect, gang influence, poverty, lack of education, unemployment, homelessness, etc. Such high recidivism rates not only indicate the failure of our society to address the needs of ex-offenders but also demonstrates the public safety risk of offenders cannot learn to become productive and law abiding citizens.
The purpose of our criminal justice system is to create safer communities, reduce and prevent crime. We must place more emphasis on rehabilitation, restorative justice, reform and reintegration. There is a tendency to focus on institutional safety rather than community safety. Under this narrow focus, the best way to avoid escapes and riots would be to keep prisoners in their cells 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However the public would be in far greater danger after those prisoners were released. We need to do what will be in society's best interests. We need to encourage and support rehabilitation and successful reintegration. Correctional policy must be judged by whether it makes the public safer.
Reentry planning should start at intake. Planning for the release of inmates should start as soon as they are sentenced. Assignmnent to a prison should include factors such as proximity of the person to the inmate's family and the availability of needed programs. Each inmate should be assessed for family issues, addictions, health issues, literacy, job skills and educational needs. A written plan should be developed to address the issues identified in the assessment with the aim of preparing the inmate for a successful transition after release. Prior to release, offenders should be provided with documents needed to achieve a successful transition from prison including; identification papers, referrals to services and programs, medical prescriptions, copies of medical records, and information on applying for public/social assistance.
Prison policies should strengthen families. Crime not only has a devastating effect on the direct victims, but also on the families of offenders. Incarceration puts tremendous stress on the spouses and children of offenders. The stress is exacerbated by placing inmates far from their families, being disrespectful to family visitors and charging fees for telephone calls. In addition there are often preexisting issues of drug issues, physical abuse, and marital conflict. If these issues are not resolved during incarceration, reentry will be much more difficult. Prison must strengthen relationships between families as a healthy, functioning family is one of the most important predictors for successful reentry. Our prison policies must be changed to strengthen families rather than destabilize them. Corrections policies must be rewritten to encourage mentoring relationships to begin inside prison and continue after release. These healthy relationships should be encouraged, not prohibited. Maintaining strong family ties during imprisonment has a positive impact on both returning prisoners and their children. Several studies have shown that continued contact with family members during and following incarceration reduces recidivism and helps offenders reintegrate into the community. Visitation and parent/child relationships are to be encouraged and facilitated including lowering telephone costs, easing mail restrictions, and expanding visitation hours and facilities, unless public safety would be endangered. Inmates should be placed in the institution of the appropriate security level closest to their families. Family members should be involved in planning and facilitating reentry, unless they would be in danger or refused to participate. Information regarding children should be obtained as part of the intake procedure: number, age and residence of children. Provinces should develop programs/activities that support family and parent/child relationships: using telephone conferencing to permit incarcerated parents to participate in parent/teacher conferences; using videoconferencing to allow virtual visitation when parents are more than 100 miles from their families; develop books on tapes programs where incarcerated parents read a book into a tape which is sent home to the child; establish family days which provide longer visitation hours or family activities; establish private houses on the property of the institution where offenders and their spouse/significant other could spend up to 3 days together, provided the risk level is low; create childrens' areas in visitation rooms with parent/child activities. Provinces need to develop programs to help prisoners with a history or identified risk of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking reconnect with their families and communities as appropriate with the intent that they become mutually respectful, non-abusive parents or partners.
Programs are important but healthy relationships are even more important. The support and accountability provided by mentors often make the difference between a successful return to society and re-offending. As offenders make the difficult transition back to the community, they need relationships with caring, moral adults. Provinces should establish a community based program matching mentors to offenders to help them make the transition from prison to the community safety and successfully. The mentors will provide offenders with practical advice, encouragement and hold them accountable for their actions.
We call for comprehensive re-entry preparation, support and assistance. The path ahead of ex-offenders should lead to a better life. We need to reform the justice system to place more emphasis on rehabilitation, reform and restorative justice in prisoners' reintegration.
Offenders being released from prison should be assisted and supported in the following ways:
- Be provided with a safe place to live, whether it be a housing complex, group home for ex-prisoners, or transitional housing by other non-profit organizations.
- Be provided with employment assistance in resume writing and interview skills, in order to help ex-offenders secure gainful and rewarding employment.
- Be provided with a mentor to assist offenders in beginning their life in the community. Returning offenders need mentors as much as programs and services. Programs which prepare inmates for release, alone don't reduce recidivism. An element which is essential to successful reentry: a relationship with a loving mentor who will assist the offender during the critical first few months of freedom. Offenders still desperately need services such as housing, job placement, health care, education, and transportation assistance but they also need a good relationship with a mentor. The support and accountability provided by mentors often make the difference between a successful return to society and re-offending. As offenders make the difficult transition back into the community, they need relationships with moral and caring adults who want to help them. The greater the density of good people we pack around them, the greater the chance that they will be successfully replanted back into the community. Moving from the very structured environment of prison in which they had no freedom, independence, choices and virtually no control over any aspects of their lives, inmates returning to their communities face a myriad of options, decisions and temptations. They are also surrounded by risks to become re-involved in criminal activity which they must learn to manage. Such basic decisions as where to sleep, where to seek employment and with whom to associate confront them the minute they hit the street. They need the love, advice and encouragement of a mentor. And they need someone to hold them accountable.
- Be equipped with healthy relationships and a support network of family and friends.
- Be provided with resources and programs to help with addiction, abuse, neglect, gang desistance, mental health services, life skills, risk management skills among others.
- Access to medical and mental health services.
The community (individuals and organizations) must be more receptive, more loving, compassionate and more committed to forgiveness and second chances. Collaborating to meet ex-offenders' reentry needs will improve public safety in the long term and help restore our communities which are broken by crime and poverty and addiction and mental illness. We must better prepare offenders to return to their communities safety and successfully. We must increase public safety by promoting the safe and successful return of offenders.
http://pm.gc.ca/eng/contact.asp (Link to contact the Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper. Please express your concerns with the little assistance prisoners receive after released from prison and urge him to change this).
It is imperative that provinces develop mentoring programs for youth and adult inmates to help ease the transition from prison to the community while providing encouragement and support. Inmates must be provided with addiction treatment services and programs during and after incarceration. Inmates must receive education and job training/planning in prison. Alternatives to incarceration such as probation, must be utilized in more cases and courts need to rely less on imprisonment as a sentence. Prison should always be the last resort, not over-relied upon. The mentally ill, non-violent, addicted, drug and property offenders should NOT be imprisoned, unless they pose an undue risk to the public's safety and are considered dangerous and violent. There must be supportive programming for children of incarcerated parents. Prisons should ensure the early release of certain elderly prisoners convicted of non-violent offences.
Programs alone don't reduce recidivism. They lack an element which is essential to a successful reentry: a relationship with a loving mentor who will assist the offender during the critical first few months of freedom. The support and accountability provided by mentors often make the difference between a successful return to society and re-offending.
Offenders being released from prison must also be provided with more medical/mental health services, resources for programs, employment assistance, housing, education, transportation assistance, rehabilitation/addiction programs and risk management programs. Offenders in prison must be provided with more visitation hours, telephone calls and unescorted passes to a private home with their spouse and/or children, as the maintenance of strong family relationships is a key ingredient in successful reintegration, which must be facilitated.