Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ex-offenders' optimism crushed by reality of state indifference

Could Texas reduce crime if the state spent more resources on programs preparing prison inmates to re-enter the free world and on support services once they're out?

That's the implication of a new survey conducted by the Urban Institute among felons leaving the Texas prison system who planned to return to Houston, the Houston Chronicle's Peggy O'Hare reported this morning ("
Felons' view of freedom often rosier than reality," Nov. 26). Despite relatively high recidivism rates, the survey found that 84% of exiting inmates thought it would be "easy" to stay out of trouble and keep from returning to prison, meaning that many who hope and expect to succeed on the outside later run into barriers that prevent that goal. So what factors would cause so many people who say they want to change their lives to commit new crimes? Reported O'Hare:

Many find that prospective employers are reluctant to give people with felony records a chance to prove themselves, and finding rental properties that will allow felons to sign a lease can be even tougher. Also, experts say, family members long separated from them by steel bars may not be willing to reconnect.

But one Urban Institute researcher said the inmates' optimism is simply human nature.

"I really do believe they have every hope and every intent of making it this time," said Nancy La Vigne, one of the study's authors. "The disconnect comes after release, when they have no support system."

Researchers found 71 percent of those surveyed expected to support themselves easily, although only 15 percent had jobs waiting for them. Most acknowledged they would need help with education, job training, money, transportation and health care.

The study also found that 79 percent expected it to be easy to renew family relationships. As many as 63 percent expected to live with their families and 54 percent said they would rely on loved ones for financial support.

That's an incredible amount of optimism and positive, hopeful potential offenders appear to possess when they leave the penitentiary. It's too bad reality doesn't more closely reflect their expectations. If 71% think they'll support themselves, but only 15% have jobs waiting, then about 56% are in for a big disappointment -- so many employers refuse to hire ex-prisoners, they'll be lucky to draw any paycheck at all in the free world, much less one that lets them support themselves and their families (about half of all Texas inmates have minor-age children).

These stats highlight a disconnect in public policy that I've never understood -- more than 90% of Texas corrections resources are spent on prison buildings, guards, and other incarceration expenses, but without in-prison preparation, plus job placement and housing assistance when they get out, many felons become recidivists purely out of desperation at a lack of other options. That makes us all less safe.


Almost everyone who enters prison eventually comes out, and then what happens? Take the example of a 20-year old burglar who robs houses to get money for drugs. If in prison that person receives no drug treatment, education, or job training, then upon release, because of the "felon" label, cannot get a job or a place to live, what can anyone expect but for the offender to go back to robbing houses? No job, no home, the addiction that drove the original offense still extant -- what other option does that person have, really? We've created a situaton where criminality becomes the only available career path instead of just a youthful bad decision.

Incarceration has boomed to the point that one in eleven Texans is now a felon (after all, Texas has declared nearly 2,000 distinct acts "felonies"). That means there are an awful lot of people out there in precisely that circumstance.


If we really cared about public safety instead of just vengeance and retribution, programs to help offenders find jobs and places to live would be as important a part of the corrections system as prison walls and bars. That's because the goal of the system would be for the offenders not to commit new crimes when they get out -- to reduce the overall amount of crime. When you look at the incentives the current system provides -- bans on many jobs, allowing housing discrimination, re-arrest instead of treatment for drug abuse, restrictions on voting and participation in public life -- you'd honestly think Texas wants
ex-offenders to fail and commit more crimes.

14 comments:

mu said...

I congratulete you.Society Govt. and Fedral making ex convict to get job extremely difficult can harm society itself as it dicourage ex convict to improve be better citizons.

Anonymous said...

KOODOS TO THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE!!
WHY CAN'T STATE & GOV. ESTABLISH SOME KIND OF SYSTEM THAT GIVES THESE EX-OFFENDERS A CHANCE!!? THEY SURE DO EXPECT THEM TO HOLD A FULL TIME JOB. THE MOMENT ANY REPUTABLE LG BUSSINESS PULLS A BACKGROUND CHECK MOST GET SCARED OFF! My relative even has a degree in Electronics, and Computers & can't find work!Why can't the past be the past! The Ex-in EX-Offender means past & they have paid their debt to society!! Bussiness need to open their eyes & see what these guys may have to offer, they don't expect to be paid top wages to start & these companies may truly even get quite a bargin when it comes to payscale of an Ex-Offender vs a Graduate. Everyone has made a mistake or error in judgment at some time. These guys just want a chance like any other. It's difficult enough just to keep from being violated with the expectations the law puts on them upon release. I can only say I pray for those who are in charge that God puts it in their hearts to see the person for their abilities and not just the "Ex-Con". See these people as someone who truely NEEDS Employment to survive. May God Bless those who are trying and to those who are willing to give these ExOffenders a chance!!

Anonymous said...

I am looking for a clearninghouse of sorts that distributes information for former inmates from Texas that provides addresses and phone numbers for housing, jobs, medical care, counseling, and all agengies that work with former inmates. Where can I get a directory like that. Please let me know?

Anonymous said...

I am a sigle mother of two convicted of aggravated battery 5 years ago for fight that really wasnt that serious but to the police that lable was enough to punish my kids for what i did. Why you ask? I'm very qualified for a lot of customer service,and clerical jobs that will pay me a wage that will keep me from having to ask the government for any type of assistance. But because they cant let the past be the past, I have to ask for their assistance just to hear them say we are tired of taking care of your kids! Well offer me a program that will assist a felon like me and "I'll take care of my own kids"So if you dont want me asking for your tax dollars than stop taking mine from the minimume wage job that you will only allow me to get!Yes we are convicted felons and in their eyes not worth much but are worth a lot when it comes to taxes! and did I mention I'm not from Texas I'm from Florida.

Eric Bolding said...

I will not remain anonymous, my name is Eric and i am a felonious offender in the Austin area as well. I am currently facing 2 years in state due to my actions but the court has given me the opportunity to pay up my probation and avoid the time. Try as i might, i cannot find employment as when any employer sees that i have a felony on record, they dispose of my resume before considering how much of an asset i might be.It is obvious to me that the system is rigged to condem the condemed to a life of mediocrity and to be forever shunned for the mistakes that they once made. Faced with the consequences of my actions i have considered some "non-traditional" jobs that do not dwell in the legal sector of society, but i refuse to stoop myself to that level. Breaking the law is what got me into this position in the first place. As hopeless as I am at this point in llfe i remain diligant in my efforts to locate employment A.S.A.P. I know that there are jobs out there for the offender that can be aquired if one searches hard enough. There is hope for all of us, sometimes we just need to hear that to keep us going. Keep up the good fight and the spoils of war are yours to have. I shall keep fighting, but I at least I now know that I am not alone in this battle against the odds.

Eric B.
Austin, Tx.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there needs to be some kind of system set up for convicted felons to be able to find work. I was took a plea bargain in May of this year for a charge that I know I should have never got to make things easier on my son and my family. The county I was in was unjust to me because of my son's father tormenting that county the entire time he was growing up. So now I am a 21 year old convicted felon who didn't get deferred ajudication probation with a first offense. I worked at 2 fast food restauraunts this summer but ended up getting accused of things I wasn't doing so they fired me. I haven't had a job in a month now and it's getting ridiculous. My probation officer told me to apply at walmart because they get a tax write off for every convicted felon they hire, but they denied me a job where I was gonna get paid nearly $9 an hour!!! It just aggravates me that I can't be a dr or anything now all because of the county not liking who I chose to have a child with. I was working on getting my Medical Assisting license and then I was gonna go to nursing school and then as a nurse I was gonna go to med school to become a neonatologist which now I cannot do because of this felony. I have probation fees to pay and bond fees and of course I have to \pay the fees for they classes that I was ordered to take for the so called anger problem I have. All because my son and I was severly abused and they wouldn't letl me press charges on my son's father for what he did to me they just wanted to automatically assume that I let the bastard hurt my son!!! Things like that are why the US government is about to take over the TX prison system!!! Anything anyone does in the state of TX is considered a felony and they lock everyone up and throw away the key.

Virginia said...

My husband is an ex-offender. We moved to TX about 6 years ago, leaving two good jobs and a decent rental. Within the first year he was ordered back into counseling (which MO had released him from and which we now had to pay for again), were forced from our new apartment and I lost my new job. All of this because of his offense. We ended up flat broke and living in a gang-infested, drug pushing neighborhood filled with prostitutes and other ex-offenders because no one else would have us (same story as the other ex-offenders).

I ask, is it any wonder at the recidivism rate? You're expected to "turn over a new leaf" and become a better citizen, but you are forced to live in conditions that constantly jeopardize you're new thought processes by hanging old temptations in front of you 24/7. In the end old habits and desperation combine, landing you right back where you came from.

We are now experiencing the same housing discrimination in MO because we wanted to live in a safe, quiet neighborhood in a nice apartment until we could pay down past credit debts and afford to build our dream home. The reason is the same, as well: it's nothing personal, just business. It's as if a single error in judgement, albeit a huge one, means you are no longer worth the "business risk."

As Drew Barrymore's character said in Ever After (and I'm paraphrasing) "If we punish those for doing that to which they were first educated, then what is to be believed but that we first make criminals and then punish them?"

I say it is high time we start taking the "business risk" and fight this prejudice with societal education and ex-offender outreach, even if that means we have to work on one person at a time.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I've been reading some of the comments posted and i must send my sympathy to all of you out there struggling with felonies. My sister suffer the same situation and I've been trying to assist her in finding job resources. I also know that Direct tv offers jobs to most people with a felony. I also hope that the government make more jobs available to those who are trying to do positive things and get back into society. My husband also suffers trying to find employment after incarceration. I hope that the government realize that people will never be able to live righteous until they are able to find legal means to support themself and their family. Good luck to all on their journey for employment and stay educated on how to address issues in your community. READ, WRITE, SPEAK, and STAY ENCOURAGED. Better Days are coming

Lynn said...

Hello my name is Lynn and I'm not ashamed. My daughter has no chance to take off the felony sign she carries daily. She is a good person and mother who made mistakes when her life was thrust into hell. At age 20 she was suddenly faced with the loss of her husband, she was a mother of one and pregnant with her second. Life thrust her into more than one cycle of depression from her loss. In her grief and depression she made a fatal mistake of leaning on drugs to cover-up her pain. Consiquently becoming one of Texas's female inmates of a non violent crime and being labeled for the rest of her life as a felon. She is a bright, vibrant young lady who paid the price of time in prison (her time for her crime) she now struggles with how to care for her children not only with housing but with financial suport. I'm outraged that our system spends no time preparing them for freedom. I know this because I personally experienced how our system does nothing they claim to assist them in getting back to society. Texas claims "they own them". And if the state actually ever intended to re-habilitate as they claim then what are they willing to do? I saw at no time any re-habilitation to prepare her.She has never had a problem admitting that she did something wrong. But to Texas I asked this question. When is the criminal system going to admit that it is sending felons back to society with all their rights taken away? An equally important notion of freedom centers on the right of the individual to be free from government tyranny. No one is free in this society if they must fear the unbridled power of the the state to punish without adequate protection against the abuse of the state. Families are sufforing from the burden the system is demanding from them, children loose out most of all. I've experienced personally how this burden of support puts added burdens on tax payers, as our welfare systems are burdened with the overwhelming assistance needed to care for the victims of the system's lack of concern for what it is doing to the non-violant offenders and their ability to fit into society as a hard working contributor to our country. Felony mothers who can no longer support their families. Thereare indeed an overwhelming amount of mothers in the system from non-violent drug offenses. They can't make it because they have lost all their "Rights" They are individuals who still love their country and want to return to it a free person after they have been sentenced and paid their time. Our justice system is not only abusing the offenders, but also the public that they claim they are protecting. Should not the state be held accountable for it's crime to society. Give the felons their rights back, they have taken their punishment and were removed from society. Let them remove the "Scarlet Letter" they carry around. Allow them to show the condeming world that they can overcome their mistakes and contribute to our society as free individuals. I listen to my daughter as she cries when she has to turn out and walk away from a job that she needs for her welfare. She must hide her in her existance in her home with her husband, because she can't be on the lease as a felon. I see the victimization of the felon, my daughter. I have live as a loving mother of a felon and experience of the system. I know who the criminals truly are.

Rhonda said...

God bless us all. I am a felon convicted at the whim of a D.A. in N.C. "because he felt I knew more than I was telling him". I did not commit a crime, nor did I participate in a crime. My former abusive boyfriend committed a double homicide and because he lived with me, the D.A. felt I knew more than I told them (even though I was their star witness against my abuser and helped them win the case- AND my abuser later admitted he threatend my life if I continued to tell EVERYTHING I knew about him). I plan on working within the judicial system as a court advocate. I plan to make a lot of noise to bring attention to just how easily the label felon is given to people who either are distantly attached to a someone who commits a criminal act but get labeled due to acquaintance OR those who get labeled as a felon for a crime that they could just as easily receive a lesser charge and enter a rehabilitationo program. I agree with Eric and the mother of a female felon, society makes it hard for us to live a decent life. I live with anger everyday that I did not even participate in a crime or know that it was taking place. I was recognized by the court as a victim of domestic violence whose life could have been snuffed out if my abuser got to me before I was able to testify (I still live in fear of him sending someone after me) yet I constantly have to prove to society that I am "worthy" of a chance at a decent life. I am being bold and taking chances by believing God can and will do some miraculous things if I just keep moving forward. Even though I am a felon, I have turned in applications with victims services and the sheriffs department, because I want to educate others about just how easy it is to become a felon, often "by association". I get discouraged, but I shake it off and keep moving forward. Keep your heads up. I plan to develop a website of employers willing to "take a chance" on convicted felons. Don't give up, there is a miracle out there for all of us. Be bold, set goals and keep striving for them, you may hear "no" nintey-nine times but how much sweeter will it make the one hundreth try when you FINALLY hear "YES"? THAT'S where you were meant to be all along. Be blessed, don't be ashamed, it's a title, but black letters on a white page do not have to equal a gray future for us... it just means we have to work a little harder to get where we want to be.

Be Blessed,

Rhonda
Georgetown, TX

Rhonda said...

God bless us all. I am a felon convicted at the whim of a D.A. in N.C. "because he felt I knew more than I was telling him". I did not commit a crime, nor did I participate in a crime. My former abusive boyfriend committed a double homicide and because he lived with me, the D.A. felt I knew more than I told them (even though I was their star witness against my abuser and helped them win the case- AND my abuser later admitted he threatend my life if I continued to tell EVERYTHING I knew about him). I plan on working within the judicial system as a court advocate. I plan to make a lot of noise to bring attention to just how easily the label felon is given to people who either are distantly attached to a someone who commits a criminal act but get labeled due to acquaintance OR those who get labeled as a felon for a crime that they could just as easily receive a lesser charge and enter a rehabilitationo program. I agree with Eric and the mother of a female felon, society makes it hard for us to live a decent life. I live with anger everyday that I did not even participate in a crime or know that it was taking place. I was recognized by the court as a victim of domestic violence whose life could have been snuffed out if my abuser got to me before I was able to testify (I still live in fear of him sending someone after me) yet I constantly have to prove to society that I am "worthy" of a chance at a decent life. I am being bold and taking chances by believing God can and will do some miraculous things if I just keep moving forward. Even though I am a felon, I have turned in applications with victims services and the sheriffs department, because I want to educate others about just how easy it is to become a felon, often "by association". I get discouraged, but I shake it off and keep moving forward. Keep your heads up. I plan to develop a website of employers willing to "take a chance" on convicted felons. Don't give up, there is a miracle out there for all of us. Be bold, set goals and keep striving for them, you may hear "no" nintey-nine times but how much sweeter will it make the one hundreth try when you FINALLY hear "YES"? THAT'S where you were meant to be all along. Be blessed, don't be ashamed, it's a title, but black letters on a white page do not have to equal a gray future for us... it just means we have to work a little harder to get where we want to be.

Be Blessed,

Rhonda
Georgetown, TX

Eric Mayo said...

Something for Ex-offenders to Think About

Recently I was reading a few articles about pending legislation on both the state a federal level that would make it illegal to discriminate against ex-offenders with regard to employment, housing and public services. This legislation would be a seemingly powerful step in helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society. It would great if the law dictated that legally no one could be denied employment for being an ex-offender. Being a product of the Civil Rights movement, I hold little faith in legislation. Laws do not change attitudes.

Belief that ex-offenders are victimized by their legal status may be founded but few employers are apt to sympathize. They have a responsibility to hire the person they feel will give them what they need to run a successful business. The ex-offender must think of himself as kind of a person with a type of handicap. Anyone who has seen a person with any type of visible impairment has noticed that the handicap forces them to work harder just to keep up. The same is true for the ex-offender. Not only must he have the necessary tools to compete for a job, he may have to work harder just to put himself in the position of consideration. He will have to make more contacts, have more interviews and just simply outwork the competition. This may mean he may have to get up earlier and work later. He may have to work harder on his interview and presentation skills. He may have to work at developing the skills that will make him more attractive to prospective employers

As we all know, life is all about choices. The choice we make today will impact our future successes. We can wallow in self-pity about our current situation, or we can make up our minds to improve our condition. The choice of self-improvement is far wiser that waiting for someone to change.

For more great advice for ex-offenders looking for work, visit http://www.JailtoJob.com

Eric Mayo specializes in professional and personal development with special emphasis on life skills and job readiness training. Eric has over 20 years of corporate and educational experience which he uses to help people improve the quality of their lives.

Mr. Mayo has a degree in Business Administration from Seton Hall University where he was a standout member of both the Pirate football and wrestling teams. An author and lecturer, Eric is the author of the books, “From Jail to a Job", “The Teenager’s Guide to Getting a Job" , “The Secret to Getting Better Grades", and has addressed, among others, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Charles Hamilton Institute for Race and Justice of the Harvard School of Law. He is an active member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and has spent his life committed to community empowerment.

Eric has been studying, learning, applying and executing the art of personal achievement and leadership throughout his career. It is truly his passion and his gift. He combines a straightforward approach and real-world perspective with a presentation style that is inspirational and motivational. His primary message is, “Independence through Self-Reliance."

You can contact Eric at http://www.Jailtojob.com

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Anonymous said...

I agree it is very hard for ex offenders to make it on their own without help from programs set up to help them. Let me ask this question, have anyone ever thought of going to change.org website to make a petition? Maybe then something will be done by the Gov. Seems like that's the only way to make changes these day, people have to speak up for what they want. A child of God.