The effects of incarceration are felt far beyond prison walls. New research estimates that more than 5 million children, or 7% of all children in the United States, have had a parent in prison at some point during their childhood. Every year more than 600,000 individuals return to our neighborhoods after serving time in federal and state prisons and another 11.4 million cycle through local jails. Though every family’s story is different, many justice-involved families struggle with financial strain, stigma, and the challenges of getting back to normal after family members are released.
Addressing the challenges that formerly incarcerated individuals face is a challenging task. The collateral consequences of having a criminal record can prevent individuals from obtaining employment, housing, higher education, and credit—even if the crime occurred long ago. That’s why the Office of Family Assistance is proud to support National Reentry Week from April 24 to 30, 2016 to raise awareness around the struggles of returning to the community after incarceration and encourage action to help these individuals who have paid their debt to society gain meaningful access to opportunities.
During this week, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices will lead reentry-related efforts in their districts and Bureau of Prisons facilities will coordinate events in the 122 facilities. We invite you to join them in these activities or organize your own local events. Activities could take the form of job fairs, reentry roundtables, listening sessions with formerly incarcerated individuals, special events for children of incarcerated parents, outreach through OpEd pieces in local media outlets, or any of a number of other efforts designated to raise awareness of the importance of reentry.
Your organizations can play a key role in helping justice involved families, by providing tools and resources to support children of incarcerated parents, circulating information to assist with the reentry process, and helping reentering individuals get access to health care coverage. Here are a few key resources:
- National Reentry Resource Center. The National Reentry Resource Center provides education, training, and technical assistance to states, tribes, territories, local governments, services providers, non-profit organizations, and corrections institutions working on prisoner reentry.
- Reentry and Employment Strategies. This white paper was developed to help program administrators and practitioners navigate the complex issues related to coordinated planning and service delivery. The white paper provides guidance on how to develop integrated reentry and employment strategies using a resource allocation and service matching tool.
- Connecting Reentering Men to Health Care Coverage. Many community-based organizations serving men coming out of the criminal justice system recognize that their clients have serious physical, mental, and behavioral health needs. They also recognize that the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid expansion have created new opportunities for their clients to get access to affordable health care, however many organizations do not know what those opportunities are or how to connect their clients to them. Health Coverage and Care for Reentering Men is intended for community-based organizations serving justice-involved men to help them better understand the new opportunities offered under the Affordable Care Act, why it is important information for their clients, and how they can help their clients get connected to coverage and care.
- Federal Children of Incarcerated Parents Website. This website on youth.gov consolidates all of the federally-funded resources designed to help justice-involved families support children and youth who currently have an incarcerated parents. For example, this website provides a Tip Sheet for Mentors about the unique circumstances justice-involved families face and strategies mentors can employ to strengthen the child-mentor relationship with this unique context in mind.
- SAMHSA’s Reentry Resource Guide. This guide provides an inventory of behavioral health resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for justice-involved individuals returning from their communities, providers and practitioners, and local jurisdictions and states.
Effective reentry programs offer the chance of a better life to those who return from our nation’s corrections facilities. I encourage you to use the occasion of National Reentry Week to highlight the value of these programs so that we can make a meaningful and lasting difference, not only for the individuals who are served but to the communities to which they return.
Robin Y. McDonald is the Division Director at the Office of Family Assistance