Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities: Reentry, Race, and Politics

Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities: Reentry, Race, and Politics

Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities: Reentry, Race, and Politics

Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities: Reentry, Race, and Politics

Synopsis

'Accessible and comprehensive, Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities delves into the most pressing legal issue of prisoner reentry.... Thompson provides a much needed look at this dire social issue through an expert legal lens. This is an important book and I highly recommend it to legal scholars, policy makers, criminologists, and concerned citizens.' -Joan Petersilia, author of When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry In the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, African Americans made up approximately twelve percent of the U. S. population but close to forty percent of the U. S. prison population. This shocking disparity is due, in part, to the introduction of tough sentencing laws passed in the 1990s, some in response to the widespread use of crack cocaine, which was sold and used by far more black than white Americans. Now, in the latter half of the decade, the nation is in the midst of the largest multi-year discharge of prisoners in its history. What is likely to happen to these ex-offenders? In Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities, Anthony C. Thompson looks for the answer. Not surprisingly, most African Americans released from prison return to their home communities. However, as Thompson reports, many of these communities are struggling-many are in dire need of health care, adequate and affordable housing, drug treatment programs, social services, and jobs. And ex-offenders have even greater needs than other residents of these strained communities. Most of those who were drug addicts have not received treatment. Nor, for the most part, have they received any useful vocational training. When viewed in its totality, Thompson writes, this is a recipe for disaster. At this time, nearly half of all ex-offenders return to prison within three years and that percentage could easily increase in the years ahead. For Thompson, any discussion of ex-offender reentry is, de facto, a question of race. After laying out the troubling statistics, he identifies the equally troubling ways in which media and politics have contributed to the problem, especially through stereotyping and racial bias. He reports on the growing number of black women being sent to prison and looks at governmental responses to reentry, including the shifting roles of parole officers and the use of courts in reintegrating ex-inmates into communities. Well aware of the potential consequences if this country fails to act, Thompson concludes with concrete, realizable ideas of how our policies could, and should, change.

Excerpt

Reentry is a term few people outside the criminal justice system know. Some individuals and communities have experienced firsthand the consequences of our national failure to facilitate meaningful reintegration of recently released prisoners. Far too few individuals can either articulate or imagine the benefits of a comprehensive approach to reentry. This is due largely to the fact that this country has never devoted the time, care, or attention necessary to create such an approach. Instead, our efforts to address reentry have, at best, remained an afterthought and, at worst, have been dismissed as someone else's concern. What has led our choice as a nation to ignore this crisis is the pervasive interplay of race, power, and politics that infuse and confuse our attitudes about crime.

So permit me to begin with a definition to ground our discussions. Reentry is the process by which individuals return to communities from prison or jail custody. The focus of this book is the way that race, power, and politics all conspire to make reintegration more difficult, if not impossible. In conversations, studies, and reports, we often discuss crime statistics, drug use, and incarceration rates. In addition, significant attention has been paid to prison conditions and to the philosophy and approach to incarceration. Whether we are talking about rehabilitation, retribution, or incapacitation, we have spent precious little time considering what happens when individuals leave custody. We rarely consider, for example, the obstacles for men and women who have been separated from family and community for significant periods of time. Alternatively, we have also failed to examine in depth the communities themselves. The cycle of poverty, incarceration, and frequent removal of large numbers of people to jail and prison generate instability in the fabric of the community. Racial and ethnic bias, the War on Drugs, and the portrayal of young men of color as predators all conspire to blur our focus on the issue.

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