“It’s Almost A Travesty” How Inmates Are Freed With $20, No ID


About half of the 30,000 inmates released from Illinois prisons each year find themselves back behind bars within three years. For those who manage to remain out of prison, they do so with little money and few prospects, reports the Chicago Tribune. Some are forced to live with parents or adult children or in homeless shelters. Back in their old neighborhoods and without a job, they struggle to resist the temptations that led to prison. “They face difficulty in just about every aspect of life,” said Victor Dickson, president of the Safer Foundation, the Chicago-based not-for-profit that helps former inmates find jobs and adjust to life back in the outside world. “Unless you have a really strong family — and most of them don’t have that — this is an almost impossible task to come out with nothing and having to rebuild your life.”

As several inmates rode a Greyhound bus back to their Chicago neighborhoods from prison last February, most from the medium-security Vienna Correctional Center in southern Illinois, the Tribune accompanied them to chronicle the journey to freedom. Many had been in prison several times, as many as five or six times in some cases. In a way, they were emblematic of the great churn of a criminal justice system that leaves inmates ill-equipped to handle life on the outside. Many of the inmates were hopeful but realistic, knowing they faced long odds. Drug abuse, anger issues, unstable housing, child support debts, limited work histories, little education — all that and more made the transition a precarious enterprise. Many didn’t even have a driver’s license or a state ID. “You get out with $10 or $20 and you spend some of that coming home for cigarettes and food. But then you have to go all over the city to get an ID or whatever else they need,” said Dickson. “It’s almost a travesty that we release these people understanding the challenges they face but without the assistance they need.”

Comments are closed.