Prison Inmates, Released Offenders & Volunteer Opportunities

"If we can help prop them up—prepare them—
I think most of these folks will choose law-abiding lives." 

...he suggests that we start revamping prison
psychological assessments, education, job-training, and treatment programs. 

“By the time people walk out of prison,

they’ll have better odds of staying out.” 

(Harold Clarke, Washington State Secretary of Corrections)

  • Spokane County Correction Facilities

    Airway Heights Correctional (men only)  
    Minimum Security Unit
    (600 men)

    Medium Security Unit
    (1,500  men)


    Brownstone Work Release
    (Pre-release for men.)

    Eleanor Chase Work Release
    (Pre-release for 40 women)

    Geiger Corrections Facility - Spokane County Jail extension
    (men and women) 

    Spokane County Jail
    (600 inmates)

  • The greatest barriers offenders perceive when re-entering the community are:  
1) Employment
2) Housing
3) Medical/dental health
4) Mental health
5) Guilt
  • Their greatest fear is failure.  
Their greatest challenges are usually
1) Afraid of using drugs again
2) Co-dependency
3) Afraid their family will reject them

  • Government programs do not make a difference in making people better, because they cannot offer relationships.  Changing people’s behavior is done through relationships with a good teacher, parent, minister, friend—people who cause us to want to develop our capacities.
  • "A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind - discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service.  Those labeled criminals can even be denied the right to vote."  - Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

  • When 100’s of prison inmates were asked,
“What was it that brought you here as inmates of this penitentiary?  I am frequently a speaker at various gatherings of young people and at graduation exercises, and I would like you to tell me so that I can warn them.”  Almost without exception, they answered,

“We are here in the state penitentiary because there came a time in our lives when we were made to feel that nobody cared what happened to us.”
(Adam S. Bennion, addressing Utah State Penitentiary inmates.)  


             

Statistics
  • Barriers to Stability.  There are more than 44,000 local, state and federal restrictions placed on people with convictions.  (healthcare, employment, voting, housing, student loans, food, travel)

    Re-entry Housing.  Cost and discrimination were the top barriers to finding housing after release.
    • 79% of survey participants were either ineligible for or denied housing because of their own or a loved one's conviction history. 
    • 58% of survey participants were currently living with family members while only 9% were living in transitional housing.
    • 1 in 10 survey participants reported family members being evicted when loved ones returned.
Re-entry Employment.  The biggest barriers to finding stable employment were lack of adequate education and training, and being required to disclose conviction history when applying for a job.  Three out of 4 survey participants said that finding employment after release was difficult or nearly impossible.

Education.  More than 40% of state and federal prisoners don't have a high school diploma or equivalent.  3 in 5 formerly incarcerated survey participants were unable to afford returning to school.  1 in 4 were denied or barred from educational loans because of their conviction.  While 67% of formerly incarcerated survey participants reported that they wanted to return to school, only 27% were able to.

Wealth Accumulation.  Young men are divided into two groups - those who experience incarceration ($10,000/year in 2000) and those who never do ($80,000/year in 2000) - shows a shocking disparity in wealth accumulation.  (Source:  Prison Policy Initiative)
What You Can Do
  • Volunteer to help offenders transition back into society.  Learn about organizations in Spokane that mentor released felons or ex-convicts by providing them food, clothing, job opportunities, and loving support

  • Education reduces recidivism rates.  Nearly 3 out of 5 prison inmates are illiterate.  Nearly ¾ of incoming male prisoners test below a 9th grade education level.   Inmates who further their education are better equipped to get out of the cycle of poverty and crime.  Education gives people a chance to improve their lives, which in turn helps the community.  
Volunteers can help turn our correction facilities into schools of knowledge and learning to educate and rehabilitate offenders.  Inmates who further their education are better equipped to get out of the cycle of poverty and crime, and improve their lives.  
  • Things that are given FREE have no value.  Find a way to create a micro-economy to pull people out of poverty and welfare.  Many of the poor have a list of reasons they cannot work; and they have neither faith nor confidence in themselves, leaving little desire to try.  Build a relationship with a person, build his confidence, and give him a loan to learn a skill or create his own business.  As he pays back the loan, that money can be given to another person to learn a skill or start a business.  Then, be willing to employ him.   Research shows that the two most important elements an individual needs to keep from returning to jail are a job and a strong family connection.  
  • Local Businesses.  Make jobs available for former prisoners.  (A tax credit may be available for employers who hire and train work-release inmates.)   Help inmates develop job skills, training and apprenticeships.  Volunteers can help give released prisoners career ideas, strategy, and leads on employment.   
  • Help build bridges between the offenders and their family, friends and community groups.  Inmates need help adjusting to the changes in society, and preparing to reunite with their families.  Research shows that the two most important elements an individual needs to keep from returning to jail are a job and a strong family connection.   If we are not willing to help inmates upon their release, and to support their rehabilitation, many will backslide into their familiar law-breaking lifestyles.  
  • Volunteers are needed to help shoulder this load, because the caseload of prison workers is very high.  Some knowledge of substance abuse, mental health, transient and criminal behavior, as well as good communication skills, are needed.  
  • Volunteer to help reduce recidivism (repeated crime).  Most released offenders will repeat crime due to drug and alcohol problems, lack of education, poor job skills and inadequate community supervision and support.  Rehabilitation is never an easy process—it requires an unusual amount of patience and devotion.  Citizens can help increase the safety of our community by addressing the causes of crime and giving former offenders the skills and treatment they need to stay out of prison.   
  • Submit a volunteer application to the Department of Corrections to be cleared to volunteer in one of the correctional facilities.  Volunteers must take time for in-depth learning, because the corrections programs are very complex.  All volunteers are screened in a thorough background check, driving record, and references.  Personal interviews and training may also occur prior to placement.   An orientation class is offered once about every 4-6 months, and position-specific training and supervision are always provided.  
  • Model appropriate behavior.  Volunteers can help offenders become self-sufficient and law-abiding citizens.   This will help inmates change their lifestyles, attach to strong moral values, and rid themselves of addictions.  Modeling appropriate behavior is one of the most potent sources of learning.  

  • Start a choir inside a facility.  One thing most offenders have in common is that they have never learned to work together with others.  Music teaches this cooperation.  
  • Charitable projects inside prisons.  Assist facility staff in arranging and staffing civic or charitable projects that allow offenders to give something back to their community.  
  • Help enhance offender programs, and increase the productivity of facility staff.  Expand facility resources in the spiritual, educational, technical, recreational, treatment, clerical and case management areas, providing services the facility cannot or will not fund, but are needed.  
  • Help with offender education, tutoring, and scholarships.   
  • Teach life skills training—domestic violence prevention, coping skills, stress management, interpersonal relationship skills, anger management, parenting and marriage programs, and in-patient substance abuse.
  • Mental health professionals can volunteer their knowledge and experience to help assess and treat the large numbers of mentally ill inmates.  
  • Teach practical issues needed for success outside of prison, from holding down a job, to managing the family finances.  
  • Share your knowledge and skills.   Some volunteers have valuable skills and experience to contribute, such as art therapy, alcohol/drug group facilitators, craftsmen with various skills, employment specialists and counselors, parent education specialists and language interpreters.  
  • Religious volunteers can help meet the spiritual needs of offenders.   Research suggests that 80% of offenders who are involved with a religious group do not re-offend; but 80% who are not involved, will re-offend.  Religious belief can make a positive difference, restoring and developing their relationship with God, their families, and their community.  Christian conversion can do something that nothing else does—the transformation of the human will.   Do not criticize any other religion—simply teach what you believe in.  
  • Help build the self-worth of offenders.  Give them hope.  Every individual has the capacity to change—help the offenders believe that.   In addition, prepare them to endure harsh judgments when they return to their community.  They may have to prove themselves the rest of their lives, because many people will expect them to relapse.  
  • Encourage offenders to learn from their prison experience and be grateful for it.  People in society have a right to protect themselves.  This may be the single most important time of their lives, if they will decide to change their behavior and the course of their lives.  Those who are grateful for the experience will most likely not return to prison.  
  • Encourage offenders to fill their lives with good things (attend church, make new friends, perform service for others), so there is no room for old habits to return.   
  • Be kind and charitable toward families with an incarcerated member.  Families of offenders need support to endure and positive examples from others.  Research shows that the two most important elements an individual needs to keep from returning to jail are a job and a strong family connection.  
  • Find ways to teach, encourage, and care about all children and adults, especially those who are at risk.  A genuine concern for their welfare and a show of unconditional love are something that most offenders have never known before.  Help bring families together.  Family involvement and dedicated volunteer service help ex-prisoners become accepted back into the mainstream of life on a productive and permanent basis.