A MESSAGE FROM OUR FOUNDER & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
"Everyone deserves a second chance at pursuing greatness."
Imagine if you had no place to live, no job and no money. What would you do to survive? To get by, would you commit a crime? Former inmates are faced with these questions far too often. Ex-offenders confront one pressing re-entry challenge after another, everything from finding a place to live and arranging drug abuse treatment to getting a job. A setback in any one of these areas can easily lead to relapse and a return to prison, what public policy analysts call "recidivism." Researchers measure recidivism by looking at the criminal acts that ex-offenders commit in the three years after prison release. The formerly incarcerated often find themselves facing the exact same pressures and temptations that landed them in prison in the first place. According to 2013 Maryland data, almost a third of Maryland prison admissions went to individuals returning to prison from parole.
So what can be done to keep people from cycling back into the system? Let's start with jobs, perhaps the single most pressing obstacle that frustrates the formerly incarcerated. Baltimore and several other cities, including the state government, have passed necessary reforms like getting employers to stop asking on their employment forms if applicants have a criminal record. Another Maryland law — the Justice Reinvestment Act — expanded the range of low-level drug offenses and other misdemeanors that can be wiped from former offenders' records, which may make it easier for them to find jobs and housing.
But individuals with criminal backgrounds still face major hurdles in finding felon-friendly employment. And not finding employment, or finding employment at really low-wage levels, leaves ex-offenders unable to meet their daily living expenses and support their families.
This prison revolving-door needs to end. With a serious showing of corporate social responsibility, employers could help end it. We have the capacity to effect real change. Companies that offer employment opportunities to the formerly incarcerated have found that those who pay their debts to society typically emerge from prison with a new perspective and lease on life. They're used to working hard; they're grateful for an opportunity to earn a living.
And fidelity bonds and tax credits for companies willing to give the formerly incarcerated a second chance now offer firms an incentive to broaden their hiring focus. We have here a potential win-win opportunity — for companies, communities, and employees. Sustainable employment may be our single best opportunity to significantly reduce recidivism. So let's do our best to make this employment a reality.
The Maryland Resource Reentry Center is committed to empowering inmates and formerly incarcerated individuals with the skills, resources, and knowledge to become thriving and productive citizens in the communities to which they return.
Vanessa F. Bright
Founder and Executive Director, Maryland Re-Entry Resource Center
About Vanessa Bright
Vanessa Bright, our Founder and Executive Director, is an experienced educator with a diverse array of skills honed over time spent in the financial services, insurance, non-profit and government industries. She is dedicated to educating adults and youth on the basic principles of financial literacy and providing them with the skills to become financially free and fiscally responsible adults. For the last four years, she has taught a basic financial literacy and entrepreneurship course at a women's prison. Form that experience, she felt that she wanted to help returning citizens begin the process of preparing for reentry into their communities as soon as possible, and not wait until a few months before release. She established the Maryland Reentry Resource Center to focus on improving the quality of life of families and individuals that are a part of the criminal justice system through non-formal, participatory, educational programs, case management, and mentoring.