Depending on how long you were in jail and the type of crime you committed, you will need to create varying levels of support for yourself prior to and after release. Chris White, who has worked as a vocational re-entry coordinator and his wife Helen Lincoln-White, a substance abuse counselor, offered up some solid advice on how to settle into a home once you are released from jail.
The couple, who work for agencies in western MA, agree that inmates need to start building a network of support before release. "They need case management to help them get on subsidized housing lists or find affordable apartments," said Lincoln-White. In addition, depending on the inmate's offence, services such as disability rehabilitation or specialized counseling should be set up before release, she said. For example, the state of North Carolina has had success in increasing the number of Charlotte pipefitters and providing former inmates with opportunities for sustainable income through the state's Correction Enterprises Division and Inmate Construction Program. "Unfortunately, depending on what state you live in, there can be a large gap between needs and services. People need a chance to reintegrate back into society instead of just opening the doors and saying, 'Good luck!'" said White.
White said that inmates often need to start with some very basic tasks before leaving jail such as making sure they have proper identification. Identification, such as state identification cards or driver's licenses are essential to getting both housing and jobs, White said. An I.D. is also necessary for vocational training programs, including programs that train former inmates in building arts like hanging drywall. "During an arrest, people often lose their I.D.'s," he said.
If you are going to be living with family
Lincoln-White said that is important for not only the inmate, but the family to get support and counseling before the inmate comes home. "The key is supervised support, such as from a probation officer or a social worker for a period of time," said White. Lincoln-White added that the family should have in-home therapy, especially when children are involved. She does not recommend the inmate going back to their family right away if there has been domestic violence.
Things you should and shouldn't have in your home once you are released from jail
"You should definitely not have alcohol, guns, or anything illegal in your home," said Lincoln-White. Lincoln-White also feels strongly that the newly released should try to get into a half-way house or other type of transitional setting prior to trying to live alone.
However, if the person who is newly released from jail is able to obtain housing, she recommends that they work on a plan to avoid becoming isolated. "Make sure you have a phone of some type; they are cheap and easy to get these days. Also, make sure to have a list of people you can call if you are having a hard time," she said. Other suggestions she made included making sure to get outside at least once a day, finding "buddies" to do positive activities, volunteering, going to meeting for substance abuse recovery, and getting exercise if possible. "I've told people to at least go out and pick up the newspaper once a day, just to get out of the house. The longer they stay inside alone, the more anxiety they tend to feel," she said.
"People have a lot of 'dead time' in jail. They get comfortable having nothing to do, and they need to start being active again," said White.
One thing someone might be required to have in their home is a "Sobrietor," (remote alcohol testing). The Sobrietor is attached to a phone. The person required to use it is called at specific times of the day and night, at which time the person has to breathe into the device. If the alcohol reading is low, they may be called up to three times a few minutes apart. The reading is transmitted to a person monitoring the system. Lincoln-white said that the calls also are to ascertain whether the person is actually in their home when they are expected to be. "If someone, for instance, has had a number of drunken driving charges, the Sobrietor helps keep them from going back to jail," said Lincoln-White. If the reading is high, the police are signaled to respond and possibly arrest the offender.
The geological cure
"Sometimes it's a good idea to relocate someplace different or new. It's not usually a good idea to go back to the places where you were involved with crime in the first place," said Lincoln-White. And while people are who they are no matter where they go, White said often people who have been incarcerated frequently have also "burned a lot of bridges or they don't have a supportive, healthy family to go back to once they leave jail."