Jail to Jobs: Once a criminal, always a criminal? - Part 1

Imagine spending 20 to 30 years in prison, or even a year in jail, and then being released with nothing but the clothes on your back.

What are the chances of being successful in the world?

For years there have been debates about why offenders are or aren't successful once they re-enter the workforce or society in general.

Some experts say that when it comes to statistics, it depends on what study you look at. Overall, though, success rates have gotten better.

There are more community programs designed to help offenders get back on their feet, but there are still many stigmas that will never go away.

For Jennifer Colanese, her first teaching job was in a prison.

More than ten years later, she works for Indiana University South Bend and runs a program called the "Inside-Out Prison Exchange."

It’s a program that was established nationally, where students and inmates meet to discuss ways to successfully re-enter the community.

“It's a chance to make a connection with the community," Colanese explains. "The men in the South Bend re-entry center will be returning to the places in Indiana in two years. It’s a chance to show that they can do it and they can compete with anyone else in our community.”

Colanese believes one of the biggest obstacles to making it on the outside is education on the inside. “Education… not just to have a paper behind your name. It’s important to say you're a graduate or have a high school diploma, but the other things that come with achieving your education… the self-confidence, the critical thinking skills that you gain with an education. I think all of those things are very important when they are trying to do this on their own.”

Chaplain Cory Martin from the Elkhart County Jail believes that the healing process is aided by community.

The role of a jail chaplain has changed from just ministry and handing out bibles.

“I believe if we don't have a relationship with the inmates, then we are missing the purpose and point of the ministry,” Martin explains.

Their ministry and re-entry program includes 20 assistant chaplains,100 churches and at times 500 volunteers. “We desire to get to know the inmates here as people. They are human beings. They made a mistake, that's why they are here in jail. But a program isn't going to transform their life -- a relationship will.”

Opinions differ about successful re-entry, and so do offenders.

Everyone faces different barriers, different pieces of a puzzle in pulling everything together like environment, genetics, learned behavior, family support, drug addiction, health, education, money, and housing.

“All of these things contribute to why somebody commits a crime, but it doesn't help when you don't have your basic needs met,” Colanese says.

In Indiana, according to the Department of Corrections, the most recent report from 2012 shows that at least a third of inmates return to prison within three years.

That number doubles when it comes to the number of inmates that are arrested within three years.

These statistics have dropped, though, when compared to a survey from 2005.

According to the Bureau of Justice study from 30 states, 68 percent of prisoners were arrested within three years.

“I don't know if crime is ever anything that we can ever consider solved,” reflects Colanese. “But I think there are things that we can do in our community that can make it less of a problem.”

Meanwhile Chaplain Martin says, “My job regardless of the recidivism rate is to always be here for them when they come back, always be there for them when they get out, whether it’s one time or ten times. My responsibility as a believer doesn't end just because they come back to jail for the third time.”

Right now an inmate can get a GED in most jails and all the state prisons.

But in 2010 the state cut the opportunity for inmates to pursue a college education at all of the prisons. Some private colleges still work with inmates at various locations though.

In the second part of this series, we take a look at the exact definition of recidivism and the tendency to relapse back into crime.

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