Our faith calls us to support humanity, especially those with struggle in society, as we are all made in the image of God. Ex-offenders, who are often some of the most vulnerable people in society, have a fundamental right to human dignity, including basic amenities such as food, housing and employment.
Our prison system is marked by very high rates of recidivism—the re-arrest and return to prison of individuals who have already served a sentence before. A 2002 study from the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 67.5% of newly released prisoners were rearrested within three years of release. The study also showed that non-violent offenders were more likely to enter back into the prison system than violent offenders. High recidivism rates result in large part from the lack of resources for ex-offenders returning to their community.
Aside from the stigma of being imprisoned, ex-offenders face the harsh realities of rebuilding their lives financially and socially. Ex-offenders are banned from voting after their release and denied access to public benefits such as Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formally known as Food Stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, formerly known as Welfare) and often housing assistance. As a result, people find hardship in securing basic amenities. For example, the California Department of Corrections estimates that 30-50 % of parolees are homeless in major urban areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Facts on the United States Prison System
- With approximately 2.3 million people in the prison system, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. (Sen. Webb).
- Although we are only 5 % of the world’s population, the United States has 25 % of its prisoners. These facts are startling.
Incarceration of Women
A large percentage of women in prison deal with histories of mental illness and domestic abuse, and there is a need for programs that allow offenders to readjust to society. Yet, there are few resources in prisons for rehabilitation. Of the programs which exist, many do not ensure female offenders have the resources they need for reintegration into society. A few facts:
- The female prison population more than doubled between 1990 and 2001.
- Over 70 % of the women in state prisons are serving sentences for non-violent offenses, such as drug-related or property crimes.
- Almost a quarter of women in state prisons have a mental health history.
- Over half of all women in prison have been physically and/or sexually abused in their lifetime.
- Over two-thirds of women in prison have children under the age of 18, which equates to 1.3 million children with a mother in the correctional system.