By: Mikayla Riley, FRC 2020-2021
AmeriCorps VISTA programs all focus on alleviating poverty; so why do we have a VISTA at the Fairbanks Reentry Coalition? Well… It may not seem like it, but when you look a little closer, reentry work is poverty alleviation work.
You are 35 years old and leaving prison for the first time since you were 22 years old. You are released and sent on your way. Ask yourself the following questions…
If you haven’t already made a reentry plan, what will you do? Where will you go? What if you have to stay in Fairbanks, far from your family, because you are required to complete certain programs as a condition of your parole? These are all really scary experiences that, without a reentry team, many people are forced to face alone.
Now go back to imagining yourself in this scary position of leaving incarceration. A condition of your parole is that you are employed within 60 days to pay for your electronic monitoring system. Sounds simple enough, right? Not so much. To get a job you need to have an address and an ID, and more often than not, a lot of places won’t hire someone with justice involvement. So now you have 60 days to get an address, pay for any identification paperwork you need, and find a job. Without this job you will fail to pay the fee for your electronic monitoring system and will be remanded to prison.
So, now that you understand the full picture, how is this related to poverty alleviation work?
Many companies have policies in place regarding background checks and the abilities of justice-involved people to work for them. This has led to nearly 60% of formerly incarcerated people still being unemployed a year after their release. Those who do find employment typically bring home 40% less pay annually (1). With barriers to employment and limited access to social welfare programs, individuals with justice involvement are pushed further into poverty and put at a higher risk of recidivating – returning to prison within three years of their release. Unemployment leads to poverty, poverty can lead to desperation, and desperation can lead people back to crime.
Because reentry work is designed to address these barriers and focus on reducing recidivism, reentry organizations must also be poverty alleviation organizations. Reentry work is so much more than putting a roof over someone’s head; it requires active engagement in a person’s life to see that their needs are met and that they are given the tools to overcome the barriers that have been placed before them.