What’s the Social Climate for Returning Citizens?

June 28, 2022
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Employer  •  Returning Citizen

In the last three decades, incarceration rates in the United States have exploded, more than any other country in the world. When prisoners in the U.S. are released, they encounter a challenging environment that actively deters them from becoming productive society members. Within three years of release, 67.8% of ex-offenders are rearrested, and within five years, 76.6% are rearrested (SC-UMT, 2021).

With more than 2 million incarcerated individuals in the U.S., recidivism damages both the families of prisoners and society as a collective, since taxpayers continue to support a broken system that ultimately sets ex-cons up to fail after their releases. The systematic and societal barriers cause difficulty for the formerly incarcerated compared to the general public to attain employment, acquire steady housing, and function in society (SC-UMT, 2021). A successful reentry into society can be viewed through how adequately this population are able to meet basic life principles, many of which are interconnected such as livelihood, family, residence, well-being, social connections, and justice compliance. The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals is nearly 5 times higher than the unemployment rate for the general population in the United States, 27.3% for the formerly incarcerated compared to 5.2% for the general public (Couloute, 2018).

Exclusionary policies and practices are responsible for the many labor market inequities such as discrimination and economic stability of these individuals. Even though broad stereotypes regarding those with criminal backgrounds have no real-world basis, convincing employers that individuals with criminal backgrounds are good workers is simply not enough. To improve this population’s equity and well-being in all communities, policy efforts will need to address the necessary structural sources of inequality shaping the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals across the United States (Couloute, 2018). While there are many organizations in the U.S. working to remove these barriers, revisions in policy must take place before ex-offenders can have real opportunities for success.


SC-UMT. (2021, May 21). The challenges of prisoner re-entry into society. Retrieved from SC-UMT: https://online.simmons.edu/blog/Prisoner-Reentry/#_ftnref1

Couloute, L. K. (2018, July). Out of Prison & Out of Work: Unemployment among formerly incarcerated people. Retrieved from Prison Policy Initiative: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/outofwork.html

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