When former prisoners leave the system, they face tough odds.
Studies show they’re 10 times more likely to end up homeless, not to mention the difficulties they face trying to get a job with a criminal record hanging over their heads.
“I don’t like to say it’s hard, but it’s challenging. It’s definitely challenging,” said Sonny Baxter, a former prisoner.
Challenging is right.
While the simulation is set up like a real-life monopoly game, national statistics show the process is so challenging, 70% of prisoners released will end up back in jail within three years.
That’s why officials in West Virginia have designed a simulation process to give people the chance to walk in the shoes of prisoners struggling to re-enter society.
Here’s how the simulation works:
Participants are given an identity and packet of materials, including a “Life Card.”
The “Life Card” explains their criminal background, current living situation, and current job situation.
Then, they’re sent out to navigate their new lives.
“Even the most basic things like a drivers license, checking account and cellphone, they don’t have. It’s an extremely hard process and I think people really become aware of the issues people deal with when they get out,” said Bill Powell, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia.
But the simulation isn’t just for people to experience.
West Virginia is implementing the simulation into prisons with the goal of giving prisoners practice for the future.
“This gives prisoners a little taste of the frustrations and challenges they’ll face,” said Betsy Gividen, Commissioner for the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
But it’s important to remember, successful re-entry doesn’t happen overnight.
“There were a lot of roadblocks initially, but if you use your foresight and remain optimistic about the process, doors will open up,” Baxter said.
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