Dear Bernie and Hillary,
Eliminating private federal prisons and their lust for profit (at the expense of inmates and correctional officers) is one small step toward ending our mass incarceration crisis. As presidential candidates, your platform should consist o;reforming our harsh sentencing laws for nonviolent offenders, stop the imprisonment of the mentally ill, provide drug programs in the local communities, implement real rehabilitation programs in our prisons, and provide effective re-entry assistance to our returning citizens.
Our re-entry programs are failing. Nationally, about 66% of released inmates are locked up within 3 years of their release. A major cause of our high recidivism rate is the lack of employment for our returning citizens. The “F” word is part of this problem. It is not the “F” word that you are thinking, but rather it is the “F” word – Felon. The constant use of this F word, felon, to describe a former incarcerated individual has reduced his or her chance for a successful re-entry into society. An inmate has completed successfully his prison sentence without any violations,but to society, he is branded forever a felon. The collateral damage from a felony conviction is overwhelming. I looked at ads for house rentals and some ads indicated no smokers, no pet owners, and no felons. Ex-offenders are now the untouchables of American society. Our American untouchables, felons, not only have difficulty obtaining safe housing, but face overwhelming obstacles finding employment.
Anyone with a criminal record has known the anguish and frustration of trying to find a job upon release from imprisonment. Once the former inmate has checked the box in the application for prior convictions, the interviewer’s mind has closed to any thought of hiring, despite the applicant’s qualifications and his eagerness to work. The term “Returning Citizen,” is a positive way of describing an individual released from prison. Labels such as felon has created a negative and discriminating environment. Amazingly Americans are astonished at the high recidivism without considering its connection to the high unemployment rate for our returning citizens. Numerous studies have shown that employed returning citizens are far less likely to become a recidivism statistic.
The United States has 25% of the world’s inmates and only 5% of the world’s population. Whoever becomes our next president should make a priority of reducing our shameful recidivism rate.One important step–eliminate the discriminatory use of the “F” word to describe returning citizens.
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com