Why I care about the formerly incarcerated

An artist who served as defense counsel for over 25 years, I am concerned with the moment convicts experience freedom.  They go to prison, serve their time there, and then ninety-five percent of them release back to their neighborhoods.  Only the most dangerous of inmates stay incarcerated in prison indefinitely. 

But instead of being thought of as having paid for their crimes, the formerly incarcerated are punished by society and the criminal justice system.  Iā€™m not talking about the negative residuals they carry for having been incarcerated and separated from their families; but rather, I am speaking to the restrictions and impediments to successful reentry that they face.  Unsanctionable shackles of dehumanization.  Monetary fines and fees with no nexus to justice.

The mechanisms vary, but in over forty states the newly released are billed for a public defender; charged room and board for incarceration; and, must pay for electronic monitoring that they are ordered to use. Many employers ban them from employment; others make them reveal their felon status in job applications.  They often cannot be teachers, acquire professional licenses, serve in the armed forces, or work for government agencies. They cannot be policemen or hold office. Equal housing for them is non-existent. My hope is that we can treat fairly those who reenter society.


Photograph courtesy of Raymond Garcia III