Washington, D.C. — As states around the country heed public health experts’ warnings to release incarcerated people from prisons and jails, a new column from the Center for American Progress looks at the challenges that newly released people are facing and offers a road map for policymakers to follow in order to meet those challenges in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, two-thirds of formerly incarcerated people found themselves once again involved with the criminal justice system within three years of release, largely due to a low-level offense such as a technical parole violation, rather than a new crime. For those who did commit a new crime, their dire circumstances—chronic unemployment, homelessness, and lack of access to health care—often played a role, indicating that crime and recidivism rates are not a measure of one’s criminality, but rather the inaccessibility of resources.
Now, the pandemic presents an unprecedented, dual public health and economic crisis for the country and exacerbates the economic and health challenges that formerly incarcerated people face. To promote the economic security and physical well-being of those released from prisons and jails, policymakers must adopt the following policy recommendations:
- Provide direct cash assistance to people released from prisons and jails: States need to act quickly to pass legislation mandating a significant increase in the funds people receive immediately following release. This would allow these individuals to safely return to their communities and access the resources necessary for reentering society.
- Cancel all incarceration-related debts: Congress and states need to cancel the debts that people accumulate due the criminal justice system, such as pretrial detention fees, public defender fees, and post-release supervision fees.
- Expand safety net programs to be inclusive of people with criminal records: Policymakers need to remove the barriers keeping people with criminal records from accessing programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and housing assistance.
“Policymakers must pair early release policies with reentry reforms,” said Sarah Figgatt, special assistant with the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. “Without basic reentry supports, early release policies merely transition justice-involved people from one harmful environment to another, jeopardizing their and their communities’ health, safety, and security.”
Read the column: “Reentry Reforms Are More Critical Than Ever Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic” by Sarah Figgatt
For more information or to speak to an expert, please contact Julia Cusick at gro.ssergorpnacirema@kcisucj.
To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.