Every week, more than 10,000 prisoners are released from the country’s state and federal prisons, totaling about 650,000 annually, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Reintegrating into society isn’t easy for these men and women looking to get their lives back on track, especially since about 67 percent return to the system within three years of release. That’s why reentry programs are there to help people who have served time find a way to get a job, find housing and stay away from activities that could lead back to prison.
One program led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, based on input from real people who spent time behind bars, is helping to bring realistic scenarios to life and put people in their shoes. Recently, Arizona State University’s Center for Child Well-Being put on a workshop consisting of about 100 participants in a reentry simulation with each person assuming the identity of someone recently let out of prison.
Staff, students, community members and faculty were all allowed to experience the workshop with everyone receiving a packet consisting of information related to a character’s prison record, living and employment situations.
“The simulation brings awareness and helps practitioners have a better understanding of the many challenges and barriers people experience upon their release. In terms of the workforce development, practitioners learn to emphasize and have patience when working with the individuals,” Tasha Aikens, a re-entry specialist with the U.S. Attorney’s office who oversaw the workshop said. “To walk in the shoes of one who is returning home gives invaluable insight for professionals who are tasked with helping those individuals achieve a successful reentry back into society.”
The simulation put participants in 15-minute segments where they had to navigate life after prison, trying to navigate social services, housing, probation and banking, with several tasks to complete each week. Each task had to be completed using a bus pass, but those can’t be purchased without handing over a bus pass, illustrating how frustrating it can be for those on the outside.
The simulation also included real-life scenarios such as having to pull a card from a deck to tell participants if their drug test came back clean or not, and every week (or station) participants received a card with an unplanned situation that they had to work around, like surprise bills or bus passes not working.
“Successful reentry back into society is something which is difficult. It is a complex process and unpredictable process,” Aikens said. “Our aim is to represent a realistic landscape of what these individuals face when coming home. By experiencing these complex obstacles and barriers which these individuals must navigate, we not only gain visibility into the individuals’ perspectives but also discover innovative ways to help these individuals succeed.”