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In-Prison, Re-Entry, & Second Chance Programs

Breaking the Double Cycle of Poverty and Incarceration

5 min read

Poverty and incarceration are a one-two punch that cripples millions of Americans for the majority of their lives. It’s a double cycle that feeds into itself.

Did you know the average income of an individual before they enter prison is 41 percent less than the average income of someone who never goes to prison? This shows how often poverty is a precursor to incarceration.

This poverty-to-prison pipeline is illustrated in a recent analysis from the Brookings Institute, which found that boys born into households in the bottom 10 percent of earners are 20 times more likely to be in prison in their early 30s than children born into the top 10 percent.

The path to prison is complex and different for everyone, however, the barriers experienced by those in poverty compound the probability. Things like chronic housing instability, unemployment, trauma, abuse, and food scarcity can damage individuals and families, who, without needed care and support, may become the victims or perpetrators of crime.

For those convicted and imprisoned, whatever self-destructive behaviors may have been in place prior to incarceration rarely go away. In fact, under most prison systems today, those behaviors and habits tend to be hardened and galvanized during their time behind bars.

“Prison is a hate factory… It’s like high school with knives.” -- Dave Durocher, who served five prison sentences totaling 23 years before changing his life. Durocher is now the executive director of The Other Side Academy, a successful second chances program.

After paying their debt to society, it doesn’t get any better. Formerly incarcerated individuals face extraordinary barriers in their quest for stable employment opportunities, housing, and healthcare.

When the hurdles start to add up or seem insurmountable, many return to the life they know all too well—the familiar habits, toxic relationships, and negative influences they had before prison. Sadly, the destination of their journey ends where it began — over 68 percent of incarcerated individuals in the United States end up returning to prison within three years of release.

Escaping may seem impossible, especially with such harrowing stats, but there is a growing opportunity to break this double cycle of poverty and incarceration by not just giving these men and women a second chance but by also empowering them with the tools, training, resources, and support they need to find their potential and succeed.

As a social change organization, we (Stand Together Foundation) partner with high-impact organizations that transcend barriers to break the cycle of incarceration. As a part of our mission, we identify and invest in effective second chances programs (we call them Catalysts) across the country that are disrupting the status quo and innovating within the criminal justice system. These organizations have found what works—empowering local entrepreneurs to tackle the problems they are uniquely positioned to solve.

These social entrepreneurs throw out top-down, quota-based “best practices,” and dig deep into each person’s life story to drive lasting change and successful reintegration.

The results speak for themselves. Stand Together Foundation Catalysts boast an average recidivism rate that is almost 10 times less than the national average:

National Recidivism Rate in the US: 68 percent

Stand Together Foundation Second Chances Portfolio Average Recidivism Rate: 7.42 percent

While there’s still progress to be made, we are beginning to see what’s working in the social entrepreneurship sector.

There is no simple, single silver bullet solution to the complex issues of poverty and incarceration. Rather, the solution starts with dynamic services tailored to each unique individual.

Our approach, and the approaches of the organizations we identify and invest in, is to constantly innovate. The most effective solutions are those that take a nimble approach to what works, including educational and employment opportunities; post-release services and counseling; connections to housing, employment, and mental health services; and connections to peer and community networks.

For example, The Last Mile program, a Stand Together Foundation Catalyst, enables incarcerated individuals in San Quentin prison in California (and other prisons across the country) to learn computer programming skills while serving time. Upon release, they have the means to attain in-demand and well-paying jobs (the average graduate makes six-figures upon release). The income is more than enough to cover housing and support a family, and the comradery of coworkers replaces past negative cohorts with positive ones.

Another Catalyst, Hudson Link in New York, enables incarcerated individuals to study for and obtain a college degree while in prison. In the past 20 years, Hudson Link has awarded over 600 degrees through nine colleges and six correctional facilities. The result is an astonishing two percent recidivism rate, and more importantly, a growing group of stable, productive, and successfully employed people in our communities.

Lastly, Cafe Momentum in Dallas Texas, provides a two-month paid post-release internship program for young men and women coming out of juvenile facilities, stopping the cycle early. Youth gain culinary and business skills, life skills, work experience, and positive relationships. As a result, 92 percent never return to jail — more than nine out of ten young adults change their lives forever.

At Stand Together Foundation, we’re on a mission to break the cycle of poverty and one of the significant ways we do this is by addressing the link between incarceration and poverty. Research shows incarceration is a major accomplice to the proliferation of poverty in our nation. They go hand-in-hand.

But, like the organizations above, we believe this double cycle can be broken.

By empowering formerly incarcerated individuals with the tailored and ever-changing services they need to successfully reenter society, poverty loses ground, one individual at a time.

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