Over two million people in the United States are currently in prison, more than any other country in the world. A major factor in this large population is the high rate of recidivism – approximately 75% of former inmates will return to prison. Some go back because they are career criminals, but most cases of recidivism occur because released inmates face a nearly impossible process of returning to society – especially if they are a minority, low-income, poorly educated, or have a drug problem.
Most prisons in the U.S. are overcrowded, understaffed, and underfunded, so inmates receive very little information or assistance as they approach their release date. When they do get out, they face daunting challenges in obtaining even the most basic essentials of food, clothing, and housing. They also struggle to obtain the necessities to function in society:
Identification documents (birth certificate, Social Security card),
Transportation (many former inmates cannot get a driver's license),
Both physical and mental healthcare.
Additionally, many inmates are released with a drug problem (drugs are easily available in many prisons), and their continued struggle with drugs is a major cause of failure to transition to society.
And then there's the most difficult challenge of all, finding a job:
Many employers are reluctant to consider applicants with a record.
Many former inmates lack the necessary training/skills for the technology inherent in contemporary businesses and industries.
Over 48,000 legal restrictions nationwide prohibit or limit a former inmate's opportunity to become employed.
All of these challenges are even harder for women, who often have to find child-care.
So, there's an essential missing link: a structured reentry program that will guide, support, and assist former inmates as they strive to transition from inmates to responsible, productive, law-abiding citizens. Since governmental and private business resources do not provide sufficient support for released inmates, a variety of faith-based non-profit organizations have stepped forward to serve as "the link". Two such organizations are within our diocese:
The ReEntry Alliance of Pensacola (REAP) is co-located with the Richards Memorial Methodist Church in the Brownsville area in western Pensacola. REAP volunteers begin their support for inmates before they are released, provide them with the essentials for reentry into society, and assist in finding their first job. REAP also provides drug treatment and support programs.
The Physical And Spiritual Christian Outreach (PASCO) Home in western Mobile (near the airport) serves as a reentry facility for inmates released from Alabama State and Federal prisons (and a few from Pensacola). The PASCO program begins with a 90 day in-house program, followed by nine months of mentorship as the residents gain employment and demonstrate their ability to be responsible citizens. Drug treatment, counseling, and testing are an integral part of the program. PASCO Home also offers opportunities for worship and Christian fellowship, which include participation by local churches.
Staff members from REAP and PASCO Home have met with the Commission on Prison Ministry, and Commission members have visited both facilities. The Commission believes that REAP and PASCO Home are valuable resources for inmate reentry, and that the Episcopal Church should consider supporting them. Of course, both REAP and PASCO Home would benefit from our financial support, but both programs would really appreciate the hands-on volunteer support and spiritual fellowship from our parishes.
The Prison Ministry Commission will have information about REAP and PASCO Home at the Prison Ministry Commission table at the Diocesan Convention. Please stop by and learn more!