Disability Rights of West Virginia
A Lifeline for the Formerly Incarcerated
Article by Kevin White, DRWV Advocate
The U.S. has an extremely complicated criminal justice system. We have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems. Together, these systems hold almost two million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indigenous country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. With nearly two million people behind bars the United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. We spend about $182 billion every year not to mention the significant social cost to lock up nearly 1% of our adult population.
At any one time, nearly 6.9 million people are on probation, in jail, in prison, or on parole in the United Sates. Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons. Another nine million cycle through local jails. Due to the lack of institutional support, statutorily imposed legal barriers, stigmas, and low wages, most prison sentences are for life. More than half of the formerly incarcerated are unable to find stable employment within their first year of return and three-fourths of them are rearrested within three years of release.
Data from the Prison Policy Initiative indicates that West Virginia has an incarceration rate of 731 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than any democracy on earth. This number includes individuals that are incarcerated in federal prisons in West Virginia which skews totals to a degree, nonetheless, these numbers are startling. The stark reality is that 95% of incarcerated individuals will be released back to the community.
Common Barriers and Concerns for Reentry
Once released, formerly incarcerated people face a myriad of barriers to successfully re-entering society. Every individual is different, but all will face challenges. CoreCivic identifies the ten most common barriers and concerns for individuals reentering society.
Identification – A valid ID or driver's license is crucial for former offenders to gain employment, secure housing, and find transportation.
Benefits – While not all offenders qualify for public assistance like disability, food stamps, or housing assistance, many do, and these systems can be difficult to navigate.
Transportation – Without consistent transportation, former offenders may have difficulty finding and keeping employment, attending medical appointments, or meeting with their supervision officer.
Housing – Without adequate living conditions, former offenders are more likely to reoffend.
Health Care – Recently released individuals often need help tending to their health care needs after release, especially those with chronic health conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.
Sobriety – Without professional support, recently released individuals with substance use disorders are at a heightened risk of returning to drugs and alcohol.
Family – Reuniting with loved ones can be challenging yet exceptionally rewarding, often providing new motivation to find work, avoid destructive behaviors, and develop positive relationships with children.
Education – Education not only improves a justice-involved person's quality of life, but it also helps them qualify for better work opportunities.
Employment – Finding and maintaining a job can make all the difference in keeping a justice-involved individual from returning to prison.
Finances – Upon release and finding employment, former offenders soon find themselves responsible for the cost of housing, utilities, and other various obligations.
These barriers are daunting, but help is available. In West Virginia, the WV Council of Churches, an organized collaboration of more than fourteen denominations that run volunteer, lobbying and social justice efforts in West Virginia has established approximately twenty Community Reentry Councils. Councils work to bring concerned citizens and available resources together to assist those rejoining the community after incarceration. While each community has its own needs and each council has its own goals, these councils focus on issues such as housing, food stamps, employment, transportation, education, and stigma.
Much has been accomplished over the past decade through the efforts of the West Virginia Council of Churches and other organizations but there is a lot left to be done. Criminal justice reform is not a popular political topic though issues like mass incarceration, sentencing guidelines, transitional housing, access to healthcare and substance abuse services, educational and vocational opportunity, and funding evidence-based reentry initiatives must be addressed. Reentry is an issue that effects everyone and there is hope for the future.
wvreentry - The West Virginia Reentry Councils were established by the West Virginia Council of Churches in an effort to bring concerned citizens and available resources together to assist those rejoining the community after incarceration. While each community has its own needs and each council has its own goals, these councils focus on issues such as housing, food stamps, employment, transportation, education and stigma.
Fair Shake - Fair Shake is dedicated to supporting the successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated people into society.
Reentry_Housing Options - Provides practical steps that lawmakers and others can take to increase public safety through better access to affordable housing for individuals released to the community.
Finance Jar - Starting over after incarceration can be hard. In this guide, you will find information on how to update your IDs, find temporary housing, and fix your credit score after being released from prison.
WorkForce West Virginia – Workforce of WV helps any individual who lives in West Virginia find stable employment. They offer training and education opportunities that ex-offenders can take advantage of.
Rea of Hope – This is a series of sober living environments for women with substance abuse problems.
Kanawha Valley Fellowship Home – Based in Charleston, WV, this is a transitional living program for people with a history of substance abuse.
Covenant House – Founded in 1981, Covenant house of WV provides services for people in need as well as creating social change.
KISRA – Their Second Chance Mentoring Program helps non-violent ex-offenders successfully reintegrate back into their community.
Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center – The Roark-Sullivan Lifeway Center offers a bunch of programs that returning citizens can benefit from. These include life skill training, healthcare services, and transitional housing.
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