Society problems

Opinion: Helping convicts reintegrate into society

Each year, approximately 8,000 men and women leave the Mississippi prison. But with very little streamlined assistance currently available and unnecessary government barriers to work, a large percentage of these ex-offenders will be back in prison within a few years, continuing to strain state budgets, families. and the economy.

Danny and Christy Austin are two Mississippians who could have been one of those statistics. The couple had struggled with drug addiction for much of their adult life.

In his mid-twenties, Danny found himself using drugs and stealing. He was also involved in gangs.

“I smoked weed for a long time and started using hard drugs with gangs,” he said. “The very first time I used methamphetamine, I injected it. I lost my mind with it.

Christy was a functional drug addict who ultimately lost her children and her job.

“Living a tough, fast-paced life is an understatement for me,” Christy said.

She was arrested for criminal possession of methamphetamine and discharged from the nursing program where she was enrolled.

“Everything was falling apart,” she said.

On the surface, their story is not much different from that of many others serving time in prison. But after several run-ins with the law, the couple found redemption and a new path through a local organization.

But many who come out of prison are not so lucky. Often they do not have a family or a home to enter. If anything, the life they know is the life they had that got them to jail in the first place. We know they will need job referrals, housing, addiction counseling, family restoration counseling, mental health services, and faith-based growth.

A 2021 report from the Performance and Expenditure Review Board (PEER) found a recidivism rate of over 30% in the first 36 months after release.

This means that these men and women return to prison after committing a new crime or failing to comply with the specific conditions of their release. Failed reintegration has the economic costs of legal proceedings, the treatment of detainees and housing, but also the social costs of a greater number of victims, further destruction of families and the image of the decline of the population. public security.

Several Mississippi entities offer transitional beds, vocational and vocational training, family counseling, and child rearing classes, and the list goes on. These various organizations, like Living Free Ministries, do a great job out of the pockets of the state.

But if you’re unfamiliar with the internet, or can’t afford to browse Google for 16 pages of information that may or may not be related to your specific problem, then what are you supposed to do? .

Thanks to technology, we could refine this research. We can put together a clearinghouse that these men and women could go to that provides a comprehensive list of services, jobs and accommodation available in their specific geographic area from which they could choose based on individual needs.

Finding a job is one of the critical factors in determining whether a person leaving prison will encounter further problems with the law. Ranked 50th in the country with a labor market participation rate of 55.9%, Mississippi could certainly benefit from connecting people who are willing and ready to take on quality jobs. This was true long before the labor shortages of last year.

Unnecessary barriers to work compound this problem. About a quarter of middle-income jobs that don’t require a college education in Mississippi require a professional license before you can work. But even if you spend the time and money to acquire this license, the licensing boards can still deny an application if you have a criminal record. Whether or not it has something to do with the job you are looking for.

We understand that this may be applicable in some cases, but a blanket ban has no functional purpose. The state could put more people to work and reduce recidivism, with a fresh start law covering all professions.

The legislator has started to dig into this question. This is a good thing. Let’s help more people have Danny and Christy happy ending.

Steven Randle is the director of justice and labor for Empower Mississippi. Email him at