Melissa Walker (an acquaintance of the author) sits within the walls of her concrete cell at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women (FCCW). Walker is making a contribution to this year’s recidivism rate. She was released from prison in 2008 after serving seven years of confinement. Sadly to say, this year she reoffended by stealing credit card information from her “Productive Citizenship” instructor. Her new charges are credit card theft, forgery, as well as probation violation. The price for Walker’s reoffending is incarceration until March, 2015. Wayne Luke, a retired probation officer with the Virginia Department of Corrections, says that the difference between successful and non-successful reentry is based on people, places, and things. Luke indicated that one of his ex-offenders who was incarcerated for a non-violent offense and was released in 2007 has been successful with reentry. This individual obtained employment immediately upon release, enrolled in a mental health program, and welcomed the support of family and friends. Much is being done to help ex-offenders overcome the barriers that complicate reentry into the community and develop into successful, productive citizens.
Recidivism is a major problem because it is an indication that ex-offenders are not fully rehabilitated from their prior convictions. Recidivism is the term used for reoffending behavior. It is “the tendency for those who have been convicted once to reoffend” according to the New Oxford Companion to Law (Maruna). Kathryn J. Fox, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont, indicates that “approximately 650,000 inmates will be released from correctional facilities this year and one third of those individuals will return within a three year period for probation violation or with new charges (336). In the State of Virginia, 28 percent of the 13,000 ex-offenders released from prison will return within a three-year period, giving Virginia the nation’s sixth lowest recidivism rate (“Corrections Director Says”) while Arizona has a 24.5 percent recidivism rate. Alaska and California rate between 53 and 66 percent in this regard (“Study Suggests Nevada”).
One of the major barriers ex-offenders face is becoming employed. A criminal record often denies employment opportunities. Job applications have traditionally required information for past criminal history. Massachusetts has become the first state to bar private and public-sector employers from asking job seekers to indicate whether they have a criminal history on application forms (“New Mass. Law”). Even though the saying, “do the crime, do the time” should clear the way for a new beginning, employers are not always forgiving in offering second chance opportunities. According to Angela Hattery and Earl Smith, authors of Prisoner Reentry and Social Capital – The Long Road to Reintegration, “There is a huge disconnect between the skills prisons invest in teaching to inmates and the jobs they will be able to obtain once they reenter the free world” (19). Debbie Mukamal, Staff Attorney and Director of National H.I.R.E. Network, reported in After Prison: Roadblocks to Reentry – a Report on State Legal Barriers Facing People with Criminal Records that “employers in most states can deny jobs to - or fire - anyone with a criminal record, regardless of individual history, circumstances, or business necessity” (10).
Opportunities can be found for assistance in becoming employable through programs offered by the Department of Corrections (DOC) and other employment placement services. DOC offers the Productive Citizenship: A Vision beyond Survival class to inmates six weeks prior to release. “This class provides inmates with the basic information they need to successfully adjust to the community after release which includes information on obtaining and maintaining employment” (“Department of Corrections”). It is within this class that...