PEOPLE WITH CRIMINAL RECORDS Blog

Reducing Recidivism

Recidivism in the United States

It is no longer new information that over two-thirds of persons released from the United States criminal justice system will end up back in prison within a few years. The Department of Justice has provided data that indicates that 68% of inmates released from over 25 different states were rearrested within 3 years of their release, after six years the percentage increased to 79% and 83% after nine years. This data pictures the increasing rate and the attendant problem caused by recidivism in the United States. This creates the need for an understanding of the certain ways that recidivism may be reduced.

Ways to reduce recidivism among ex-offenders

The Department of Justice has released some tips that would help authorities and individuals reduce the rate of recidivism and help create a safer environment ultimately. Below are some of the suggested ways to reduce recidivism among ex-offenders:

  • From the inception, the authorities may identify the offender’s criminogenic factors by considering the offender’s education level, the criminal history, and any indication of substance abuse; this is required to create a program of rehabilitation that fits perfectly with the needs of the recently incarcerated offender.
  • It has been proven by research that offenders who engage in educational activities have higher chances of not returning to prison and thus the amount spent on educating offenders will help save the cost of taking care of the same persons as they may be able to find their way through life without being involved in criminal activities. This educational participation may be online or maybe physical.
  • Interestingly, research again has shown that improving the skills of an inmate will help reduce the chances of the inmate’s recidivism. Thus inmates may be armed with the necessary skills required to find gainful employment after re-entry.
  • Prison authorities may be concerned enough to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of the inmates within their care, they may provide therapy sessions for offenders who have repeatedly displayed characteristics usually associated with mental illness.
  • Ensuring that inmates in prison facilities with a history of drug abuse are given adequate treatment that allows them to be completely detached from the menace.
  • Prison authorities should help inmates remain in contact with their close family ties as this will help them to choose to stay out when they get out.
  • The reduction of the use of solitary confinement in prisons may also serve as a way to help offenders, especially juveniles. Such punitive measures should be limited to low-level infractions
  • Equipping inmates with the resources and information required for re-entry by the prison authorities will go a long way in ensuring that inmates won’t feel like a fish out of water by the time they are out of incarceration.
  • Another very important way to reduce recidivism is to eliminate the use of criminal justice debt in some states. Understandably, these debts are charged to help reduce state burden and they are charged against an offender who more often than not does not possess the resources enough to pay back those debts and might just choose to return to prison.

Essentially, the task of reducing recidivism falls not just on the incarcerated individual but on the authorities, because it enhances a safe environment and it helps reduce the cost of taking care of persons who are constant visitors to prison facilities. These tips do not attempt to bear the task of reducing recidivism by 100%, however, based on the research it has been proven that these tips will help considerably reduce recidivism drastically.

Job Search for Ex-Offenders

Every year, over 600,000 persons are released from the different incarceration facilities all over the country. Around 70 million (one out of every three Americans of working age) Americans possess one form of criminal record or the other.

Getting a job may sometimes ordinarily be difficult, especially when coupled with the fact that the applicant has a criminal record. For an ex-offender getting a job is immensely beneficial because of the following reasons:

  • It helps the ex-offender to feel a sense of responsibility for their ability to take care of their financial needs.
  • It keeps the ex-offender positively busy thereby effectively utilizing their time.
  • It helps the ex-offender to be reintegrated with society and away from criminal networks.
  • It reduces the chances of recidivism. 
  • It gives the individual a sense of accomplishment and pride in their abilities. 

Tips on How to Search for Job for Ex-Offenders

Getting a job after incarceration is often difficult, however, for ex-offenders, the following considerations may be taken to help in the search:

  • Ex-offenders are advised to begin informing friends, families, and interested persons of their need for a job. They may also contact employers, attend job fairs, and apply to jobs found in online banks. They may search for a transition job, which may not afford them good pay, or may not align with their long-term career objective, however, this will help them to begin the process of being reintegrated back to society.
  • In searching for a job, most application processes require the applicant to tick the box indicating their offender status. This may be discouraging, however, there has been a national campaign to “ban the box” and this has resulted in over 35 states and 150 cities promoting regulations that discourage inquiries into the criminal record of job applicants. These states include:

Arizona
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Georgia
Hawai’i
Illinois
Indiana
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana

Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Missouri
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York

North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
Tennessee
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
Wisconsin

Out of these 36 states, 14 states have further banned the box for private employers including Oregon, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii,Rhode Island,  Maryland,  New Mexico, Massachusetts, Minnesota,    Vermont, and Washington.

Applicants may take advantage of the opportunities provided by seeking jobs in these states where their qualifications would be given greater priority than their record and background history.

  • When drafting a resume, ex-offenders should take note to include any experience gained during their incarceration as this will point attention to the skill gained rather than the time spent incarcerated. Instead of indicating the prison facility where the time was spent, the state or county should be used as the location. In addition, the resume should be crafted in such a way as to focus more attention on the skills gained than on the chronology of their work experience .
  •  The U.S Equal employment opportunity commission advises employers to consider the nature of the crime, the nature of the job, and how long ago the crime was committed when considering applications from ex-offenders. In this regard, offenders may utilize this opportunity by making reference to the issues raised and pointing out the distance between the nature of the offense and the nature of the job required, as well as possible rehabilitation that has been undergone since the time of the commission of the crime.
  • Despite the presence of the “Ban the Box” regulation in any locality, the employer may still reserves the right to make inquiries as to the criminal history of the applicant later on in the hiring process, it would be important in this case to practice an acceptable way of answering the question if it should be asked, an ex-offender is advised to, be honest, keep the answer simple, accept responsibility for the wrong and emphasize on any self-development progress or positive strides made since being released and a desire to apply skills learned to the job role.
  • It may benefit ex-offenders to locate and join any local community organization that specializes in helping offenders get access to friendly employment opportunities or access to training that will help ex-offenders garner the adequate skills and resources needed to secure employment.

Existing Programs to assist Ex-Offenders with Job Search

The rate of unemployment, especially for ex-offenders poses a significant societal risk. This has encouraged the government and other institutions to come up with programs designed to encourage employers to take on the services of ex-offenders in their organizations. The following are some of the programs that could be taken advantage of:

  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit: This program created by the government is meant to encourage employers to employ a certain targeted group of persons with work entry barriers among which there is a category for ex-offenders. They provide a tax credit of up to $9,600 each year depending on the category the employee falls under within the targeted group.
  • Federal Bonding Program: This is a program set up by the U.S Department of Labour that seeks to indemnify at-risk employees. The bonds serve as a tool that assures the genuineness of job applicants who are perceived to be a threat. The program is made to reimburse the employer for any loss arising from an employee’s theft of money or property during the pendency of the employment relationship with the ex-offender.
  • Ban the Box: This is a program initiated by ex-offender advocates which encourages the government to ban the requirement of stating an offender status on the application form. This program has recorded huge success especially with its endorsement by the presidential directive to delay inquiries to the records of job applicants for federal agencies and the introduction of the Fair Chance Act. This campaign has also been accepted and backed by regulations in 36 states of the country and numerous cities and counties. It seeks to restrict the extent to which employers can inquire into the history of an ex-convict and at what point they are allowed to do so. 
  • Fair Chance Business Pledge: This initiative launched by the U.S. government is meant to inspire private business owners to remove hindrances on the journey to a second chance for ex-offenders. The companies who signed the pledge gave their support to:
    • Equal opportunity for all, including ex-offenders
    • Banning the Box
    • Offering equal internship opportunities for all categories of persons
    • Providing ex-offenders with the requirement for reintegration back to society.

Prison Education In The United States

The numbers are sobering, but the cost is even more sobering. The US correctional system holds an average of 2 million offenders every year. About 700,000 of these inmates are later released into their community every year. However, odds are 1 in 3 of these released persons will end up back in prison within three years of release – prisoner recidivism.

The reasons for prisoner recidivism are not elusive or unknown. Former inmates face several challenges after release, such as the inability to find gainful employment, secure housing, strained relation with family, depression, and other mental health issues. Worse still, after spending an average of three years in a prison yard, many of these former inmates do not know where to begin after release. Even though they think and talk about it during their time bars, the plan doesn’t always work out as they imagined.

So, many go back to what they knew best – boosting cars, small-time drug dealing, robbery, or anything that keeps them from starving. Eventually, they have a run-in with law enforcement and are soon back in prison. This cycle of arrest, imprisonment, release, and rearrest eventually adds up and hemorrhages taxpayer dollars.

To put it into perspective, consider the cost of primary and secondary education in US public schools and the cost of running prisons. The Bureau of Justice reported that the United States spends $80 billion annually. However, journalists and experts argue that this figure is a modest estimate of the actual cost of running US prisons – hidden costs that prisoners and their families bear silently.

That said, the cost of incarceration is $37,000 per offender per year. Conversely, the US Department of Education reported that the total cost of running primary and secondary schools is $14,439 per student per year. Ergo, it costs taxpayers over $23,000 to keep a person in jail than educate them.

Note that this is an average report. The disparity is wider in some states than in others. In New York, for example, the gap between education and prison costs is nearly $40,000 per prisoner per year. Kentucky is on the lowest end at a cost gap of about $5,000 per prisoner per year. Still, the difference is taxpayers’ money – better invested in healthcare and infrastructure – gulp by the prison system alone.  

Recognizing this disparity between prison and education costs, federal and state governments have attempted to close this gap with reformative sentencing policies – most notably in California – and allocating funding for correctional education. And it has been largely successful. A Bureau of Justice assistance project revealed that for every dollar the government spends on correctional education programs, taxpayers save an average of five dollars, as the government saves on the cost of housing and monitoring offenders. 

Correctional education, also known as education behind bars, is an opportunity for incarcerated persons to gain the necessary life skills that prepare them for success upon release.

Modern-day correctional education in America is traceable to the 1970s with the establishment of Adult Basic Education (ABE) and General Education Development (GED) programs for adult and juvenile inmates whose education had been truncated by policies that favor incarceration over reformative justice. There were also vocational training programs and higher education academic programs for inmates, albeit long-distance learning.

But prison education in the US has been around for over 200 years. The first education opportunity for prisoners was at Walnut Street Jail, Pennsylvania, in 1798. However, the program ended abruptly as the prison population soon ballooned out of control.

Although prison education programs that sprung in other parts of the country garnered support at first, support soon waned when the financial interests and legislative prioritization of punishment shifted from education and rehabilitation to crime control.

Since then, prison education in the United States has faced various challenges, from cuts in funding and a dramatic increase in prison population to deteriorating prison facilities. Put together, these challenges – alongside divisive politics – have reduced the quality and accessibility of education for incarcerated persons.  

Expert studies conclude that the probability of committing a crime reduces a person’s level of education and that better-educated incarcerated persons are less likely to return to prison. Put simply; education is an opportunity for a lifestyle change.

However, a report from the Colorado College reveals that budget constraints at the federal and state level have been so severe that many prison programs have received drastic cuts in funding. The most notable of these cuts is the 26-year ban on the Pell Grant for inmates. Without access to this financial aid, a college education is out of reach for incarcerated persons. Although Congress reinstated prisoner access to financial aid in December 2020, a significant challenge remains. There is not enough funding to go around due to a prison population that is out of control.

Even with funding, the dramatic increase in prison population puts a strain on prison education programs across the country.

US prison population has been out of control since 1971 when the legislature prioritized punishment over rehabilitation. As of 2020, mass incarceration – a remnant from the War on Drugs era – currently puts 1.3 million Americans in state prisons, 631,000 in local jails, and 226,000 in federal prisons. In total, there are some 2.3 million people in prison who need access to vocational or post-secondary education and rehabilitative services but not enough money to fund the necessary programs. After all, the bulk of funds allocated for correctional spending goes toward housing inmates.

But prisoners have other things on their minds when they are housed under poor conditions – like escaping prison violence from other inmates and correctional staff. There are 1,833 state prisons, 110 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, and 3,134 local jails in the United States. Studies show that these prisons are overcrowded. For example, Montana correctional system operates at more than double its design capacity as of 2020.

The future of prison education in the US correctional system lies in government commitment to reformative and sustainable policies – and, more importantly, action. For one, there must be changes in mass incarceration policies to reduce the strain on facilities and correctional education programs. Furthermore, state and federal legislature must perform their elective obligation to expand financial aid to prisoners seeking higher education behind bars. 

Of course, education alone will not solve the problems formerly incarcerated persons face upon release. Prisoners still need access to gainful employment, secure housing, affordable healthcare, and mental health services. Nevertheless, access to education during incarceration levels the ground for these persons to become productive members of society upon release. 

Education For People With A Criminal Record In The US

A criminal record, or RAP sheet (Record of Arrests and Prosecutions), is documentation of your history with criminal justice agencies at the state and federal levels. A state criminal record contains information on your arrests, indictments, convictions, and incarcerations for committing an offense within that state. 

State criminal records are publicly available through the state police or the state Department of Public Safety. On the other hand, a federal criminal record shows your criminal history across several states in the US. The Federal Bureau of Investigation maintains this criminal record, which is available to interested persons under the Freedom of Information Act. Thus, the public, prospective employers, and educational institutions can obtain your criminal history per government regulations.   

Although the public availability of criminal records serves to protect the public, it has consequences for the individuals with such records. Generally, offenders face barriers to jobs, housing, and other socio-economic opportunities after completing their sentence. And for persons who wish to get an education after a stint in prison, the same barriers exist because private and public institutions regularly perform criminal background checks on prospective applicants. 

Legislations Fail To Address Criminal Records And Education

Recognizing the barriers that having a criminal record poses, state and federal governments enact legislation that prevents employers from discriminating against individuals with criminal records. 

Legislations like the Fair Chance Act at the Federal level, aka Ban the Box at the state level, reduce employers’ accessibility to a person’s criminal records until later in the job application process. 

An employer cannot ask for a person’s criminal records unless they have made a conditional offer of employment. The same applies to housing. But there are debates on the effectiveness of Ban the Box legislation, especially regarding persons of color with criminal records.  

Regardless of demographic, however, there is radio silence in educational institutions’ use and access to an applicant’s criminal history information. 

Roughly 60 – 80% of education institutions require disclosure of prior convictions by all college applicants. Also, about 5% of all schools go further by requiring applicants to tick the “criminal history” box and go through criminal history screenings for specific degree programs.

  • 25% of colleges automatically close their doors to violent and sexual offenders 
  • 75% view convictions on alcohol and drug offenses as serious and reject applicants with prior felony convictions. 
  • Schools are more likely to reject applicants who are under community supervision for more than five years. 

According to reviews of college admission policies for ex-offenders, there is a shortage of empirical evidence that having a criminal record increases on-campus crimes. Yet, the practices employed by educational institutions suggest they generally agree a background check on former offenders improves campus safety. 

The federal government does not help matters either.

Deciding admission for a former offender has primarily remained the prerogative of the college or university. There are no formal nor legal restrictions governing how colleges use an applicant’s disclosed criminal records to make admissions decisions. Most schools decide on a case-by-case basis. Many schools require recommendation letters from the applicant’s probation officer, among other requirements.

These barriers have made it challenging to earn a degree. Given the obstacles to education outside the correctional system, most offenders tend to get an education while in prison. Until recently, federal laws also limited inmates’ eligibility to access federal student loans to study while behind bars. Congress reinstated inmates’ access to the Federal Pell Grant in December 2020. 

However, the quality and equitable access to college-in-prison programs remain controversial. Outside prison, accessing student loans remains the least of an applicant’s problems. After all, what good is the loan if the individual cannot get admission in the first place? 

Expunging Criminal Records Improves Your Chance To Get An Education

The inequalities between the public and former offenders begin early and accumulate at each level of education, according to a Prison Policy Initiative study. However, a court-ordered sealing or expungement can help you close this gap if you are eligible. 

An expungement removes arrests and convictions from a person’s criminal record entirely – as if they never happened. Sealing prevents most persons from accessing your criminal records without authorization from the court. 

Generally, there is no federal expungement statute, and federal courts have no inherent authority to expunge records of persons convicted of federal crimes. Thus states make their own laws on the expungement and sealing of criminal records.  

However, the offenses must qualify for expungement. Generally, expungement is possible if the offender was a juvenile at the time of arrest and conviction. Adults with misdemeanor convictions can petition the courts for an expungement. Expunging or sealing records of felony convictions is not generally possible. These include murder, arson, rape, and drug crimes involving scheduled substances. There are also waiting periods, statutes of limitation, and requirements that apply to requesting a court-ordered seal or expungement. You will need to consult a criminal defense attorney to examine how this applies to your case.

Going To College Despite A Criminal Record 

People without a criminal record have a 1 in 3 chance of getting a college degree, according to the Prison Policy Initiative research. The odds are not in favor of formerly incarcerated persons who have less than a 1 in 20 chance of getting a college degree. 

If you wish to get an education after a prison sentence, your best chance is to consult a criminal defense attorney to check your eligibility for expungement per state laws. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may research your state’s laws on expungement and complete the process on your own. 

Meanwhile, the US Department of Education also provides resources for persons who wish to get advanced education after prison. You can also check this guide to getting a job and education after prison by experts at Student Trainings & Education in Public Service (STEPS).  

How To Find A Prisoner In Illinois

A prisoner is an offender who has committed a crime, convicted after a fair trial, and remanded in a correctional facility for a specified period. Also known as inmates, prisoners spend time in county jails, state or federal prisons depending on the severity of their crimes. The local Sheriff’s department, the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons are responsible for the custody of these prisoners during their incarceration in Illinois.

Finding Offenders in State Prisons

The Illinois Department of Corrections operates nearly 30 correctional facilities in the state. Interested persons may find information about persons incarcerated in these facilities online, in-person, and via mail requests. The choice depends on convenience and which method provides the information sought.

  1. Online search

Because correctional facilities are located across the state, online search is the most convenient way to access inmate information. It is also the cheapest since it costs nothing, and the searcher only needs a phone/computer with active internet access. To find inmate information online:

  • Visit the inmate search portal.
  • Enter the search parameter you know, i.e., name, offender unique number, or birth date.
  • Click the find button.

If you use the inmate’s name as a search parameter, the database will return a list of inmates bearing the same name across various correctional facilities in the state. The search will then need to sort through the search result for the prisoner of interest. However, searching with offender numbers and birth date helps to narrow down the search results. After all, the offender number is unique to each inmate, and it is rare for two inmates bearing the same name to share a birthdate.

  1. In-persons and mail requests

Using the state prison directory, identify the address and contact information of the prison where the person of interest is serving time. Then, you may call the prison administrator to schedule a visit for your public inmate records request. Conversely, you may write a letter to the Illinois Department of Corrections requesting inmate records. The letter must state the prisoner’s full name and additional information such as conviction date, age, and relevant demographic data. These help prison staff identify the inmate and retrieve the records of interest. Send mail requests in a self-addressed stamped envelope to:

Illinois Department of Corrections

1301 Concordia Court

P.O. Box 19277

Springfield, IL 62794-9277

Chicago

Phone: (217) 558-2200 x 2008

Sending an email is the least efficient way to contact the Department of Corrections due to the volume of emails received daily. Instead, you may complete the contact form, selecting Record Search under the General Subject section of the contact form.

Finding Inmates In County Jails

Information on offenders in county jails is available at the office of the County Sheriff Department. Inmate information is typically online because most of these local law enforcement agencies maintain publicly online databases. To access the online database, visit the Sheriff’s website and find the inmate roster, booking list, or jail list. 

You may also visit the Sheriff’s office in person or write a letter to them. Your letter must also contain the inmate’s full name, date of conviction, and offense. Always enclose your correspondence in a self-addressed stamped envelope.

Finding Inmates In Federal Prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons operates six correctional facilities in Illinois. These are where persons convicted of federal crimes spend time after a trial in a federal district court. To find prisons in a federal facility, use the inmate locator. This database allows you to find the offender by name or unique numbers. A name-based search is the most convenient way to find a prisoner, but it is not the most efficient. If several prisoners bear the same name, you must sort through every result for the person of interest.

Young People Are Likely to Lose Their Money And Pride To Scammers

Confident in their ability to adopt new technology, young adults under the age of twenty-five are just as likely to lose money to scammers as people over seventy-five, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission.

According to the FTC, while the money young adults lose per scam is comparatively lower than the amount older people lose, this loss eventually adds up to nearly half a billion dollars in the last two years. Compared with older persons, scammers tend to switch tactics with young adults, exploiting the younger people’s love for technology. 

Generally, they spoof their phone numbers and impersonate a business agency or government agency in calls, emails, and texts. Among the top scams that young people fall prey to are online shopping frauds, fake check scams, business scams, romance scams. On the other hand, older people are more likely to be targets of telemarketing and tax audit phone scams.

Both demographics are routinely targeted by scammers impersonating law enforcement and government agencies like the Center for Disease Control, the DEA, and Homeland Security. A closer examination shows that scammers target the personal information of young people. Older people, who have better credit, face the challenge of protecting their financial information from scammers.

Experts attribute this likelihood of young people falling for phone and online scams to decreased vigilance. Because they spend a lot of time online, young people consider themselves inure to scams and are less likely to scrutinize an email or text for scams.

A lot of preparation goes into impersonating a legit business or government. Instead, scammers use phishing links in SMS and email to steal the private information of young adults. Another method is scammers impersonating technical support and requesting online passwords and bank account information from unsuspecting users. For many victims, the experience only hurts their pride. Others are not so lucky. They lose everything and later file for bankruptcy after being pushed to financial insolvency by scammers. Even at that, they are still at the risk of falling for debt-relief scams.

There are several ways to avoid phone scam frauds using mobile communications technology that counter fraudulent tricks scammers employ. While mobile carriers adopt the STIR/SHAKEN technology, a reverse phone search is an effective way to confirm unknown caller identity. Using authentication apps instead of SMS-based two-factor authentication also adds an extra layer of protection to passwords for social and financial accounts.  

Where A Freed Person Can Get Help In Illinois

After serving time in a correctional facility in Illinois, freedom is a relief. But it can also be a challenge. Former inmates know this newly-found freedom is not something that one embraces straight away. There are social, financial, and mental obstacles to overcome to join mainstream society. And many individuals struggle with attaining the ever-increasing and complex standard of living a crime-free life. 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, correctional facilities released nearly 577,000 people from incarceration in 2019. Illinois accounted for 3.6% of these figures, releasing about 22,000 inmates from custody. However, the Illinois Department of Corrections also reported a recidivism rate of about 41% within three years. To put it into perspective, about four of every ten persons get re-arrested and jailed within three years of release. 

How can a person with a criminal record in Illinois get the much-needed help to stay out of jail? There is no straight answer. One cannot just suggest that they stay off the streets or become recluse. But avoiding former criminal associates or the environment is the recommended first step to take. 

Likewise, former inmates can look for reentry organizations near them. Reentry organizations in Illinois help persons with criminal records ease back into society after release. The goal is to help former inmates avoid crime and re-arrest through access to gainful employment, safe housing, and access to affordable healthcare. You can find a list of reentry organizations on the Illinois Legal Aid resource page

After release, former inmates typically have difficulties in getting affordable housing. This difficulty is because most landlords perform criminal background checks and are reluctant to take persons with a criminal record as tenants. Reentry Illinois is an organization that helps former inmates find affordable housing and immediate shelter. 

Only a few former inmates can continue to pay rent for the first couple of months after release, even with affordable housing. To bridge this barrier, the Illinois Department of Employment Security assists former inmates to gain employment after conviction. On the page, check out the “Useful Links” section. There, you will find a list of local, state, and federal programs for getting legal, educational, housing, and healthcare assistance. 

Non-profit organizations that offer similar services include Safer Foundation and the City of Chicago Ex-Offenders Program. These organizations also provide resources for getting affordable healthcare and continuing education. 

The first few months – and even years – after release is the most challenging for former inmates. With these services, you can get the assistance you need to become a productive and comfortable resident of Illinois. Volunteering with local re-entry programs is also a way to give back to your community, build trust, and help reduce recidivism.