By Vanessa Philbert, CEO, Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County; and Carrie Kurtz, Coordinator, Lancaster County Reentry Coalition
- Reentry (n): The action or process of reentering something or the action of retaking or repossession.
Many reentrants – those individuals returning to the community following incarceration – leave prison and must immediately begin a journey of retaking possession – not of a tangible thing – but of their life and future.
This journey can be complex as reentrants navigate the requirements of reentering their community and creating stability in their lives.
“Hello, my name is __________ . I was just released from prison and I don’t know where to start. Can you help me?”
For those of us who work to assist reentrants, those are words we hear over and over again from individuals searching for a second chance. The Lancaster County Reentry Coalition (LCRC), a group of 70+ local partners, works to provide reentrants the time, dignity & support needed to help these individuals move forward.
The LCRC is made up organizations and individuals who are committed to collaborate and coordinate services to break down barriers that prevent someone from successfully reentering their community.
Success looks different for each person, and might include:
- Providing for their family;
- Becoming a valued part of the workforce;
- Feeling good about achievements and what they have overcome;
- Finding safety in their community; and/or,
- Reuniting with family.
Statistics say 95% of incarcerated people will return to their communities. They return with many obstacles, including a criminal record, which can prevent them from obtaining employment at a sustainable wage, forcing them to struggle to provide for their basic needs. A criminal record also makes finding affordable, decent housing a challenge.
Without the basic stability of shelter, food, safety and wraparound supports, it is not hard to see where desperation can lead to recidivism, or returning to prison. According to the National Institute of Justice, almost 44% of reentrants return to prison within one year.
Given the myriad barriers reentrants face, the work of the LCRC to provide supportive services is critical. In addition to providing for basic needs, the LCRC is also working to address the trauma reentrants experienced and continue to experience through involvement in the criminal justice system.
We also connect reentrants to addiction resources and support, provide mental health services and physical care, and assist with employment and education.
In a recent proclamation, President Biden declared April 2021 as National Second Chance Month, which gives us the opportunity to “lift up all those who, having made mistakes, are committed to rejoining society and making meaningful contributions.”
Similarly, in declaring April 11-17, 2021, as Reentry Week in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf points out that “helping people with criminal records become productive members of society benefits their families and communities in many ways, including improving safety and reducing crime.”
Our community is better and our economy stronger when we support reentrants in a successful journey once their sentence is up.
Many of us do not know what it is like to wonder where we are going to sleep each night or where we will get our next meal or medical care. We know how to find healthy support systems and can obtain seasonally appropriate clothing to wear. But this is not the reality for many reentrants.
We invite you to reach out to us to learn more about how you can be involved in this important work and support our neighbors returning to the community following incarceration. Because everyone deserves the opportunity to succeed.