More than half a million people are released from prison every year in the United States, with virtually no support for the inherent challenges of re-entering society. Stringent parole conditions and a lack of support for those re-entering the community have created a high recidivism rate among parolees, who face exploitive fees charged by private companies and are threatened with parole revocation and re-incarceration if they cannot afford to pay.
Employment is critical to successful re-entry, but there are significant obstacles to employment and business opportunities. Formerly incarcerated people are also prevented from voting in many states. Nationwide, 4.4 million Americans who have served their prison sentences nonetheless are denied the right to vote, and 13 percent of African American men are disenfranchised, which is seven times the national average.
Ten years ago, EJI started a re-entry program that provides support and services for clients when they are released from prison. We provide clients assistance with basic things like getting drivers’ licenses or other forms of identification, finding places to live, and applying for jobs. Some clients receive additional support like working out transportation that allows them to maintain employment, dealing with changes in technology during their incarceration, and managing finances. We also provide therapy and counseling for clients to help them cope with the trauma of incarceration and to assist in the transition from prison.
Our re-entry program has been a particularly important program for our juvenile clients. People who entered adult prisons as juveniles and have been incarcerated for years face unique challenges when they are released. Their experience with the outside world is limited to that of a teenager – some never learned to drive a car, had their own bank account, or held a job. To succeed on parole or after release, they need education about life skills and how to cope with the daily decisions adults face in the outside world, and support in dealing with the mental and emotional challenges of re-entry.
EJI’s Post-Release Education & Preparation (PREP) re-entry program is a long-term supervised release program concentrating on the unique needs of people who entered prison before they were 16 years old. Through PREP, we provide employment, daily supervision, counseling from licensed mental health professionals, and educational programming for clients who entered state prison as children.
This past spring, EJI honored many of our clients at our annual benefit in New York City (pictured above), many of whom have participated in our re-entry programs. In May of this year, one of our clients graduated from college. After EJI won his release in 2013, David Garlock graduated from our re-entry program, and he has now obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies focusing on Criminal Justice and Social Welfare from Eastern University. David is pictured below on his graduation day.
Kuntrell Jackson was only 14 years old when he was arrested and charged in the unintentional killing of a video store clerk. He was not the triggerman but he was sentenced to die in prison. EJI took his case to the Supreme Court, where we argued that sentencing a child to life imprisonment without parole is cruel and unusual punishment. In 2012, the Court issued an historic ruling holding that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children are unconstitutional. Kuntrell (pictured below) was released earlier this year and is currently in our PREP program.
Ian Manuel was sentenced to die in prison in Florida when he was 13 years old. He was sent to one of the toughest adult prisons in the state, where because of his size and age, he was placed in solitary confinement. He remained in this extremely isolated state for 18 years. EJI recently won Ian’s release from prison, and he is now a participant in our PREP program as well. Jacob Warner, another of our clients, who after release graduated from and worked at the acclaimed Delancey Street program in San Francisco, is now on staff at EJI.