Life in and out of prison
January 30, 2023
According to a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2016, 47% of state prisoners were parents of at least one minor. This statistic has far-reaching implications: almost half of the prisoners had children who would grow up without their biological parents, increasing these children’s chances of committing a crime to five times more than their peers.
They know how to do what they do in the streets, but when it comes to doing normal things that we considered normal, getting a job, going to school, they quit, they quit, because you’re not used to barriers and thinking about the certain struggles that go on with normal life.”
— Antonio Napoleon
Convicted criminals have a difficult and extensive journey exiting the criminal justice system. A support system is a key to preventing former convicts from returning to jail.
“My support network is a huge part, but also surrendering my will, my pride, my ego, to find out who Antonio really is. Getting out of the criminal justice system is a very hard battle, which is why the support system is so crucial in somebody changing,” Napoleon said.
Recidivism is the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, “At least 1 in 4 people who go to jail will be arrested again within the same year – often those dealing with poverty, mental illness, and substance use disorders, whose problems only worsen with incarceration.”
“What started as low-level offenses snowballed over the years, and it turned into a way of life for them,” said Adriane Lee, a probation officer.
After prison, a large majority go to halfway houses, places for people with criminal backgrounds or substance abuse problems to learn or relearn the necessary skills to reintegrate into society and better support and care for themselves. Once released from the halfway houses, people go two ways: either return to their old life or search for a job.
“Halfway houses don’t provide a support system. They provide accountability. The re-entry council and other second-chance organizations are where you go to get this type of help,” Napoleon said.
According to a study by the Second Chance Business Coalition, one’s criminal record reduces their chances of a second interview by 50%, so former criminals are already at a considerable disadvantage. Many jobs still don’t require background checks, but knowing that companies and people will look at one differently because of their past causes these people to become discouraged.
“You have to deal with stigmatism and the crazy looks people would give you. But that’s their issue. That’s not my issue,” said Victoria Westbrook, a justice-involved person.
Fortunately, under the Fair Chance Act, it is illegal for most employers in California with five or more employees to ask about an applicant’s criminal record before making a job offer. Employers cannot include questions about an applicant’s criminal record in their help wanted ads, applications, or during a job interview.”
For example, Dave’s Killer Bread is a company that believes in Second Chance Employment and encourages other businesses to do the same. A lack of information or understanding about employing people with criminal backgrounds can make businesses hesitant to explore this option, and Dave’s Killer Bread has a mission to change that. The company works to prevent stigmatism by “hiring the best person for the job, regardless of criminal history.”