New Report Shows Most Americans Support Improved Resources for Those Reentering Society from Prisons and Jails During COVID-19

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New polling published Friday in a report by The Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress finds that most Americans support measures to increase and improve the resources available to help people who are reentering society after being incarcerated in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Specifically, the report finds:

  • 60% of all respondents, including 50% of those identifying as Republican, support supplying smart phones and phone plans for people reentering society. 
  • 66% of respondents, including 61% of those identifying as Republican, support a program that would help those reentering society obtain work, training and/ or education to ensure they are able to support themselves.
  • 53% of respondents support providing hotel rooms to allow individuals to self-isolate upon release if they have been exposed to coronavirus in jail or prison.
  • 56% of respondents — including 51% who identify as Republican — agree that returning citizens should be provided 12 months of stable housing.
  • 52% of respondents support the temporary repeal of criminal record bans for healthcare profession licensing for people otherwise qualified and not a risk.
  • Majorities support increasing drug use disorder and overdose treatment through coverage and provision of methadone and naloxone.

“In the best of times,” the authors say, “the reentry process is extraordinarily difficult and emotionally taxing.”  In addition to having to navigate a long list of onerous rules, “[t]hey must also struggle against the sanctioned stigma of a criminal record, restricting education, employment, and housing opportunities.”  Only 8 cities (and no states) protect returning citizens from housing discrimination based on being previously incarcerated. Only 13 states and Washington D.C., as well as 31 cities, have adopted “ban-the-box” laws designed to prevent employment discrimination for those with criminal records. 

The report notes that before COVID-19, people who have been incarcerated were already much more likely to be unemployed (27% vs. 5% for the general population),  unhoused (10 times more likely), or die from an accidental overdose in the first two weeks after reentry (130 times more likely) than the general population.

Adding to that the historically high unemployment rates due to the pandemic becomes even more problematic because returning citizens are typically ineligible for unemployment benefits. Coupled with the fact that many supervised release programs require employment as a condition of release, this puts people returning home in an especially precarious situation. They may also have additional trouble finding housing because of family members’ fear of COVID-19 infection, especially when prisons and jails have become sites of some of the worst outbreaks. 

The authors recommend several measures in response. In addition to supporting those discussed directly in the polling noted above, they recommend the critical step of eliminating work requirements for parole and probation, instead having probation and parole offices work with people to ensure that they are able to support themselves, register for food and housing benefits, and look for work without fear of discrimination.  

The full report is available here.