“The Revolving Door” is a theory in Criminal Justice coined to describe recidivism. Recidivism can be defined as, “the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend.” According to The Prison Policy Initiative, approximately 700,000 individuals in the United States are released from state prisons each year, while an additional nine-million people are released from county jails. Of that entire given population, 10% are homeless the next two years following their incarceration.
Previous inmates are also ten times more likely to become homeless than the general public. These former incarcerees face a heightened risk of recidivism while struggling with homelessness as opposed to housed individuals.
As former inmates attempt to return to their normal lives, they are faced with several systematic barriers. Property owners and public housing authorities implement their own form of screening criteria while individuals are bidding for a place to reside. Although their sentences are over, most screenings, including criminal record-checks, are enough for a landlord to turn a person away. The use of credit-checks and the requirement of professional references are additional obstructions that previous incarcerees face in securing housing.
Failure to obtain a safe living space is heartbreaking for those desperate to get their lives back on the right track. As job discrimination towards those with a criminal record is common, it is simultaneously extremely difficult to maintain the job when you are expected to look professional and maintain proper hygiene, all without a home.
In the same way they are denied housing, previous inmates are not always given an equal opportunity to receive healthcare. Healthcare includes addiction treatment and mental health services, two resources that are often crucial in a person’s recovery. The Addiction Center states, “38% of homeless people are alcohol dependent, and 26% are dependent on other harmful chemicals.” The Addiction Center goes further to mention, “While 30% of homeless people overall suffer mental illness, the rate is significantly higher in populations of women. 50% to 60% of homeless women suffer mental and emotional disturbances.” It is necessary that healthcare is protected for our former inmates if we want to see them succeed.
These hurdles placed in a person’s pursuit to gain control of their life statistically leads first to discouragement, and then to the potential reoffense of a crime.
Former inmates have already served their time. Upon release, the lack of proper housing- or more ultimately the obstructions barring them from it- continues their punishment. Past incarcerees that struggle with homelessness are serving a never-ending sentence, and it is time that we assist them on their road to stability after imprisonment.