Cycle of poverty, incarceration strengthened by lack of resources, stigma of arrest
The difficulties former prisoners experience are being simulated in a college program to show problems people experience on reentry.
Participant Brandon Ruppe said he hopes the simulations will lead to more equitable practices in hiring and for the formerly incarcerated seeking housing, according to a story in The Shelby (N.C.) Star. The story was reprinted April 10, 2022 by The Associated Press.
On March 30, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Public Safety brought attention to this stigma at Cleveland Community College. The event was attended by human resource representatives from local businesses, churches and homeless shelters.
The participants were given tasks they must complete in a simulated week: getting an ID, meeting with their parole officers, paying rent, going to work.
“The thing I think most people don’t realize is they are only one bad decision away from being in a situation like this,” said Jana Demetral, of Lincoln Correctional Center. “Just one mistake. You could be texting in your car and accidentally hit and kill someone. Then bam, you are in this exact situation.”
The prisoner release reenactment was designed to be difficult. Most participants express frustration at every station because of someone’s unwillingness to help them or not knowing if they needed to visit another station first, said the article.
At the end of each simulated week, a very select few participants are allotted housing, but most end up in a halfway house, or wind up homeless or go to jail.
“I couldn’t get to probation because I was standing in line for an ID,” Ruppe said in one simulation. “I couldn’t get a drug test because I didn’t have all my IDs. So people get competitive, and they can get frustrated because the people at these places don’t always treat you well.”
Ruppe was one of the participants “sent back to jail” for missing a meeting with his probation officer.
There are plans for a transitional house for released offenders, but a recent rezoning hearing for that project hit a snag with some opposition from neighbors. In addition, there is a lack of mentors for a state program to assist people released from prison, said the article. The simulation sponsors plan more events to bring awareness to the need and the obstacles to reduce recidivism.
“If you don’t have a job when you come out of prison and you have rent to pay, what are you going to do?” asked Ruppe. “You are going to end up doing what you’ve done your whole life, what may have gotten you in trouble and landed you in prison in the first place.”