Your Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card: Preparing Your Loved One for Life After Prison

Everyone looks forward to that day when an inmate gets a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. David Robinson got his in May of this year. He walked out of prison after the Missouri Supreme Court dismissed the charges against him. He spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Now what?

Re-entry is hard and it doesn’t matter if your loved one is set free because they served their sentence or if they were exonerated. Life on the “outside” for many released inmates is a culture shock.

Recidivism rates are high

Recidivism simply means the likelihood that someone who broke the law once will do it again after they are released from prison.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, a part of the U.S. Department of Justice that studies crime and criminal offenders, released a major study on recidivism in 2005. They found that 68 percent of released prisoners were rearrested within three years and 77 percent of released prisoners were rearrested within five years.

This year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics updated the study to look at recidivism rates after nine years. They found 83 percent were rearrested within nine years.

Recidivism rates are high and they haven’t gone down since the study was first done in 2005. Helping your loved one during re-entry can keep them from being a statistic.

Why are some rearrested and some aren’t?

There are a number of reasons released prisoners are rearrested. Lots of studies have been done to figure out why one released prisoner is rearrested and another never sees the inside of a prison cell again.

According to a 2016 study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, inmates who are young, didn’t finish high school and are convicted of crimes with guns are the most likely to be rearrested. Inmates over the age of 60, college-educated and convicted of less violent crimes are less likely to be rearrested.


 A strong support system can make the difference

One thing is clear: Released prisoners will have a much better chance of staying out of prison if they have a strong support system. The way your loved one coped with life in prison is different than the way they will cope with life on the “outside.” They will need your help to cope with life on the “outside.”

You will have to give your loved one the same support during their re-entry that they relied on you for while in prison. You’ll have to be patient with them as they navigate the “outside.” You have to help them with simple things like getting around on public transportation, opening a bank account, using a smartphone or just getting used to the internet.

If your loved one has been exonerated, they may never get compensation or any consistent, coordinated re-entry assistance. There are a few organizations you can turn to for help. After Innocence is an organization that provides re-entry assistance for those who have been wrongfully convicted.

Get rid of the known risk-factors

If a lack of education contributes to recidivism, encourage your incarcerated loved one to get a GED or a bachelor’s degree while in prison. If age is a factor, find a mentor or a good role model for them to talk to on the “outside.”

Anger and aggression are two major emotional battles your loved one is likely to fight. If anger and aggression provoke your loved one to violence, help them find a way to channel the anger. Anger can be productive and healthy, but your loved one needs to learn how to express it the right way.

Counseling, support groups, exercise, meditation, prayer and music are all excellent ways to channel anger. Help your loved one find something that works for them.

Try to understand what it’s like for them

There is no way we can truly understand what it’s like for a newly released prisoner. But, if we want to support our loved ones during re-entry, we have to find a way to understand some of the struggle.

The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that reports on the U.S. criminal justice system. They interviewed six released inmates to learn what the men faced during their re-entry. Their stories may help you understand what your loved one will go through when they get home. Listen and read their stories about re-entry.

PrisonConnect encourages you to stay connected with your incarcerated loved one. We also wish you and your loved one a peaceful and successful re-entry when that day comes.

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