September 30th, 2010 by Howard Zehr
According to the National Reentry Resource Center, three quarters of a million state & federal prisoners were released in 2008 and this number is expected to grow. The obstacles to successful re-entry faced by these ex-prisoners are staggering.
Some years ago Madison Area Urban Ministry developed a simulation exercise and a video to help us understand these obstacles. The simulation walks participants through the various steps of re-entry. I once took part in this exercise. Most of us – except for some experienced former prisoners – never made it through. The video tells the story of a prisoner’s release and the circle that worked with him.
Re-entry represents an important arena for restorative justice applications and a number of communities have pioneered such programs. A few, for example, use a family group conferencing model to help families address the issues and relationships involved when a loved one enters or returns from prison.
More common are programs that build upon the Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA or CSA) model first developed for working with those who had offended sexually. Madison Area Urban Ministry’s program, for example, was inspired by that approach.
I recently discovered a promising approach being piloted in Estes Park, Colorado, by a police and community partnership. Operated by the Estes Valley Restorative Justice Partnership, it is entitled Community Circles: A Pathway for Re-entry. I was especially impressed by this program’s explicit guidelines for “core member” and community responsibilities, meeting agendas, circle guidelines, and weekly contracts.
A manual is in progress. In the meantime, program manager Amanda Nagl says that she is happy to share the documentation they have available. This will be a helpful resource if your community is considering a similar model. Amanda’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Research suggests that a major factor in successful re-entry is family connections. Yet the National Reentry Resource Center reports that 55% of parents in state correctional facilities and 45% of parents in federal correctional facilities say that they have had no personal visits from their children.
Contact between children and parents is important not only for incarcerated parents but for the children as well. The importance of this became clear in the interviews with such children that Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz and I conducted for our forthcoming book, What Will Happen to Me? This book, which is due for release in January 2011, highlights the faces and words of some of these 3 million children. It also provides helpful information for caregivers such as grandparents and teachers. But more on this book in a later entry.