A new national survey of former inmates commissioned by the Alliance for Safety and Justice documents the ways in which securing housing, adequate employment, and access to mental health services are so challenging, according to The Trace. It found that over 90% of people with criminal records say that they themselves have been victims of crime, quantifying what many know to be true about the cyclical nature of violence. This cycle contributes to a racially disparate rate of arrests in Philadelphia, a city where homicides have claimed nearly 1,800 lives since 2020, mostly through gun violence. Even when accounting for prior criminal record and illegal firearm charges, Black and Latinx Philadelphians who were convicted of aggravated assault or burglary were more likely to be incarcerated than whites convicted of the same crime, said a report from District Attorney Larry Krasner. The inequities in the prison system, and especially the troubles people face when reacclimating to society after their release, led the alliance to conduct its “first-of-a-kind survey,” said its president, Lenore Anderson. The group wants lawmakers to understand the short- and long-term impacts of their policies on people with records.
A nationally representative sample of 4,060 people were surveyed. Of that group, the authors interviewed 554 people who had been arrested, convicted, or incarcerated. Among the key findings, more than 44% of those with records cited difficulties obtaining housing. Of those with felony convictions, 69% said they have had trouble paying for groceries and 73% said they have had a problem attaining a job, maintaining employment, or making a living. More than 53% had been evicted or forced to move because they were unable to pay housing bills. Of those with past convictions who cited mental health as a factor that led to their arrest, 48% said their experience being convicted or incarcerated made their mental health worse. The formerly incarcerated need services for housing, job training, mental health, dealing with trauma, and the stigma of having been incarcerated, said Erik VanZant, Pennsylvania organizer for REFORM Alliance, a nonprofit that works to make probation and parole laws less punitive.. However, many are not getting what they need in communities with too few services to go around already. The survey’s authors recommend that lawmakers seal the criminal records of those who’ve completed their sentences and maintained a crime-free period; lift some of the 40,000 legal restrictions that limit people’s eligibility to reintegrate, including prohibitions on employment, housing, and education; fund safety solutions that prioritize prevention, treatment, and recovery services overspending on incarceration; and ensure that those with records can access crime victim services, given that most are also victims of crime.