They serve their time and are released, free men and women once again.
But within a year, more than 40 percent of ex-prison inmates end up back behind bars. Within five years, three-fourths are arrested again, according to one study that tracked prisoners released in 2005.
In the wake of arrest after arrest they leave behind sorrowful mothers, fathers, siblings and spouses who long to help, but are unsure how to end the cycle.
“The problem is prison life doesn’t prepare the average inmate to succeed on the outside,” says Christopher Zoukis (www.ChristopherZoukis.com), a prison-education advocate who himself is incarcerated at the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg in Virginia.
“So when they can’t adjust or they fail to land a job, they get in trouble again.”
Better education opportunities in prison would help, but spending tax money to educate inmates is a tough sell, says Zoukis, author of two books on the subject – “College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons” (McFarland & Co., 2014) and “Prison Education Guide” (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016).
So prisoners must take matters into their own hands, and that’s where family members play a critical role, he says. Just as parents on the TV show “Beyond Scared Straight” strive to keep young people out of prison, families of those already behind bars can intervene to keep them from returning.
The family should encourage inmates to take steps now that will help them succeed once they are on the outside, he says, such as:
• Earn a GED or high school diploma. Many prisoners lack the education that is a critical element in a successful job search. Fortunately, most prison systems offer the opportunity to earn a GED. Unfortunately, a true high school diploma isn’t as easy to come by.
• Research career opportunities. Prisoners need to determine what career best suits their personality, skills and interests, but remind them to be realistic. “They are more likely to succeed with a job that has few entry requirements,” Zoukis says. “Any occupation that requires a substantial amount of money to start, or an advanced education, is probably out of reach.”
• Read and read some more. Once prisoners narrow their career ideas, encourage them to read up on each field. This enables them to understand how to find employment in the field and determine entry requirements.
• Seek advanced education and vocational training. Some prisons might offer adult education or vocational training in the career area the inmate targets, but most don’t offer much in terms of training, Zoukis says. Suggest that correspondence programs, such as the terrific Prison College Program through Adams State University, could be an option.
“Preparing for a career after you’ve been in prison is not easy,” Zoukis says. “But family support can go a long way toward improving the odds of success.”
About Christopher Zoukis
Christopher Zoukis, author of “College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons” (McFarland & Co., 2014) and “Prison Education Guide” (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016), is a leading expert in the field of correctional education. He is founder of www.PrisonEducation.com and www.PrisonLawBlog.com, and a contributing writer to The Huffington Post and Prison Legal News. He is incarcerated at the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg in Virginia.