Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities
Reentry, Race, and Politics
Publication Year: 2008
In the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century,African Americans made up approximately twelve percent ofthe United States population but close to forty percent of the United States prison population. 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. In Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities, Anthony C. Thompson discusses what is likely to happen to these ex-offenders and why.
For Thompson, any discussion of ex-offender reentry is, de facto, a question of race. After laying out the statistics, he identifies the ways in which media and politics have contributed to the problem, especially through stereotyping and racial bias. Well aware of the potential consequences if this country fails to act, Thompson offers concrete, realizable ideas of how our policies could, and should, change.
Published by: NYU Press
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I gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Filomen D’Agostino and Max E. Greenberg Research Fund at the New York University School of Law as well as the continued support from a number of colleagues, especially Professor Deborah Schenck, who has been a great support in this project. I would like to thank Susan Hodges and Damaris Marrero for their impeccable administrative support.
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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 ...
1. Reentry, Race, and Stigma
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The last two decades of the twentieth century witnessed an unprecedented increase in the number of people incarcerated in the United States. By 2001, approximately two million men and women resided in state and federal prisons and jails.2 Although other communities of color suffered the effects of this increased incarceration (as described later in this work), this dramatic rise in incarceration had a particularly ...
2. Media Influence on Public Perceptions of Prison Life
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Many people have had no direct contact or experience with the criminal justice system, so their information about criminal justice comes exclusively from second-hand reporting, entertainment, and other representations in the media. This fact has important implications for public perceptions of law enforcement agencies, the courts and prisons, offenders, and victims.
3. Women: The Afterthought in Reentry Planning
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Women have unique experiences arriving in, getting through, and recovering from the criminal justice experience. Women continue to be the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. prison population, and they bring a unique set of problems into the criminal justice system. According to a Rocky Mountain News story on women in recovery: ...
4. Reentry and Housing
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Ex-offenders’ first priority upon release is to find suitable housing. But “suitable” is quite obviously defined differently depending on one’s vantage point. If one were to ask a representative of the criminal justice system— a parole officer or a member of law enforcement—to define the term, one would probably elicit responses that involved some combination of verifiable address ...
5. Reentry and Health Care
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People enter prison with a variety of health problems, and, once they are housed in prison settings, a disturbingly high percentage of individuals contract an illness or develop ongoing health problems. The law mandates a duty of care to ensure that inmates receive treatment while in custody. But that care is eliminated virtually immediately upon release from custody.
6. Reentry and Unemployment
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Employment is one of the key factors that prevent a former prisoner from committing new crimes. It often creates a sense of self-worth and of investment in the future that leads to full and legal participation in the community. Placement programs that specialize in rehabilitating ex-offenders frequently note the inverse correlation between recidivism rates and employment opportunities.
7. Reentry and the Political Process
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One subtle but devastating method of punishment exacted against our nation’s formerly incarcerated is effected by stripping them of a basic right of citizenship: the right to vote. Felon disenfranchisement laws operate throughout the country to restrict the voting rights of individuals who have been convicted of felony offenses. In some instances, the laws dictate that individuals who have been convicted of felonies but who ...
8. Reentry and Parole
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When the average citizen speaks about parole, he or she typically concentrates on its glaring failures. Willie Horton’s crimes allegedly committed while on parole torpedoed a presidential campaign and helped launch a retributive phase of criminal justice policy. Polly Klaas’s kidnapping and murder by parolee Richard Allen spawned “three strikes and you’re out” legislation that sought to keep third-time offenders ...
9. Reentry Courts
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According to traditional American jurisprudence, the role of the judge in a criminal case is to oversee courtroom proceedings relating to a defendant’s guilt or innocence and appropriate disposition of the case. Over the last decade, however, drug courts and other problem-solving courts have been testing another model. Judges in these courts use the power of the courts to set and monitor explicit conditions for a defendant’s behavior (e.g., “don’t use drugs,” “get regular drug testing,” “go to treatment”).
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Close examination of this country’s retributive criminal justice policy decisions over the last three decades reveals the devastation left in their wake. Each decision taken separately created a host of consequences. But when one steps back and examines the impact of those policies as a whole on individuals and communities, one can see the massive toll on both lives and potential that short-sighted decisions can take.
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About the Author
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Anthony C. Thompson is Professor of Clinical Law at the New York University School of Law. Prior to his 1995 arrival at NYU, he served for nine years as a public defender in California, where he represented both adults and juveniles in criminal cases. He serves on the board of directors of the National Council for Crime and Delinquency, ...
Page Count: 262
Publication Year: 2008