Blog Posts > New Brief Provides Vision for Reentry from the People Who Live It
November 15, 2022

New Brief Provides Vision for Reentry from the People Who Live It

For Immediate Release: November 15, 2022

Contact: Renee Alves, 559-916-5939

Charleston, WV – West Virginia is experiencing an imprisonment crisis, with an incarceration rate higher than that of any country in the world. Thousands of West Virginians are released from prison every year, and these returning citizens face hundreds of collateral consequences — that is, punishments that last even after they have finished their sentence and that get in the way of finding good jobs, securing a place to live, and connecting with loved ones. Their return home is further complicated by the stigma attached to people who have been through the criminal system.

Our new issue brief shares important insights from returning citizens, providing a vision for reentry from the people who live it. It explores the myriad obstacles formerly incarcerated people face when they leave prison, as well as the policies that could meaningfully address those obstacles.

To conduct this research, the WVCBP partnered with Race Matters, an organization that works closely with Black West Virginians and other communities of color in southern West Virginia to address economic inequality, health disparities, and civic engagement. We wanted to give returning citizens the opportunity to imagine a better alternative to the reentry experience they had lived. With a focus on southern West Virginia, which has borne the brunt of the state’s economic decline, we gathered groups of returned citizens in Logan and Mercer counties and conducted one-on-one interviews and listening sessions to provide them space to share what release from prison would look like if the ultimate goal was their success.

Key Survey and Interview Findings:

  • 2 out of 3 survey respondents said transitional housing would make reentry easier.
  • 96 percent of survey respondents had a high school degree or high school equivalency degree, compared with 87.6 percent of the general WV population.
  • 61 percent of survey respondents said they did not have a paying job, despite being six years out of incarceration on average.
  • 4 out of 5 survey respondents were parents — and 65 percent of parents had children under 18 years of age.
  • 48 percent of survey respondents said their biggest worry after leaving prison was coping with the social stigma of their conviction and incarceration.
  • 1 out of 22 survey respondents with a job said they found their job with the help of their parole officer or a state jobs program. Everyone else who had found work found their job on their own, or with the help of family or friends.

“Returning citizens know exactly what they need when they leave prison,” says brief author, Sara Whitaker. “They want what anybody wants, but what, in many cases, they never had. They want more opportunities to do good and fewer punishments. They want less crisis. They want to know what to expect, and to receive insight and support from people who had once been in their shoes. They want to land on their feet instead of being set up for failure. And they want a chance to live a full life and make a difference in their communities.”

Policies to Smooth the Reentry Process:

  • Peer reentry programs providing support from formerly incarcerated mentors who have experienced reentry themselves
  • Low barrier, affordable transitional housing
  • Ready-to-work documents like a Social Security card and a DMV-issued state identification card or driver’s license provided upon release from prison
  • Job training and job placement support
  • Automatic, automated expungement of criminal records
  • Elimination of licensing barriers that keep returning citizens from accessing good jobs
  • State and local government jobs for returning citizens
  • The right to vote

We believe the best reentry policy would be to ensure that fewer people experience the harm of prison in the first place. Barring that, we must approach reentry as an opportunity to lift burdens and heal harms, and that work starts with listening to the people who have been made to carry those burdens and suffer those harms.

You can read the full brief here.

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