This blog is a space to share ideas, advocacy, experiences and developments around incarceration, it's effect to self, family,community and the greater society.
The Guilford College Higher Education in Prison Initiative is an effort to bring higher education to those incarcerated in prison, developing not only the skills for critical thinking and engaged learning but also fostering a shared human connection and mutual respect between all.
I have had the honor to be let into so many other's lives, hear their stories, see their pain and frustration but to also experience their resilence and fight for justice, humanity and dignity that has brought each of them and their families to the place they are today. You have all been an inspiration and motivation in my pursuits of justice and equality. Your existence gives me hope.
(Names have been changed to respect and protect the people in each story and their families)
In the winter of 2009, Marion, a convicted felon, was released after serving a fifteen month sentence for possession of narcotics in a medium-security prison in North Carolina. Upon his release, Marion was clean and sober and had made life changing revelations through adopting a new found passion by dedicating his life to his faith and more importantly his family. His work ethic was at its highest of his entire life, his determination to make a substantial living to provide the necessities, as well as, wants for his young daughter were stronger than the words he spoke for the love of his God, and his goals for being a stronger, productive, and more active member in his community were fueled by an appreciation of his rehabilitation.
But this is only a small chapter in Marion’s story. Like the other hundreds of offenders that will attempt to be successfully reintegrated into society in the upcoming months and years Marion’s aspirations of success in his life and acceptance of reintegration into society has been stonewalled by the lack of social capital within surrounding communities that are imperative for not only community prosperity, growth and connectedness but for individual human prosperity and nourishment.
The following will discuss the importance of social capital on successful community integration on reentry programs for offenders. The term offender can be broadly defined, so the concentration within the following text will be limited to offenders convicted of non-violent criminal offenses and those reentry efforts.
Current research suggests that“in 2011 nearly three-quarters of a million people, mostly men and disproportionately African American and Hispanic men--will return from jail or prison to communities all over the U.S.”(Smith, 2011). Some of these people have been incarcerated for only a limited amount of time; others have been incarcerated for long periods of their lives. Reentry programs have substantially been focused on providing these individuals with appropriations to successfully tackle the challenges of reintegrating back into society. Many of the challenges that these individuals face operate around a lack of “social capital” within the communities and neighborhoods they reintegrate into.
Although there may be disagreements explaining the most thorough and clear definition of social capital the main proponents within the definition of social capital are that “social capital is a form of organization that makes possible the achievement of certain ends” (Rose, 2001), “social capital are the benefits secured by membership in social networks” (Rose, 2001), and that “the features of social organization, such as networks, norms, and trust, that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (Rose, 2001). Ultimately, social capital is a collective social dynamic of relationships within communities that produces understanding of each other with collective social actions.
James Coleman in his article, Social Capital and the Creation of Human Capital builds on the theory of social capital by suggesting that “the understanding of individuals is acting based on a rational consideration of their self-interest, and as being influenced by their social contexts” (pg. 1). Social capital is of particular importance to offenders and its neighborhoods to recognize the collaborative goals of successful reentry, decreased recidivism of crime, family and community cohesiveness and strong accumulation of network and resource building.
Social capital is a strong asset to successful social policy as well. The community-based program Project Reentry, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina has received national recognition and acclaim for its efforts and mission to provide inmates and their post-release communities with services to enhance human and social capital. The reintegration efforts and services of programs like Project Reentry demonstrate the valuable importance that social capital has on social policy. In order for communities and individuals to successfully tackle the challenges with re-entry through community-based programs it is crucial to understand the components of social capital.
In the article, Social Cohesion, Social Capital and Neighborhoods, Forrest and Kearns identify eight components of social capital. They suggest that social capital is composed of the following: empowerment (when residents feel they have a voice, are involved in processes that affect them and can take action to initiate change); participation (in social and community activities so local events are well attended); associational activity and common purposes (cooperation which results in the formation of formal and informal groups to further collective interests); supporting networks and reciprocity (individual and organizational cooperation to support mutual and one-sided gain and an expectation that help is available if needed); collective norms and values; trust (both between co-residents and between residents and local organizations); safety (resulting in no restrictions of public space due to fear); and belonging (where people feel connected to each other, their home area and feel they belong to the place and its people) (Kearns, pg. 2140).These elements of social capital should be at the heart of any effective reentry effort and the most successful community-based organizations understand the implications of such.
Recidivism is a primary focus that both the inmate and community do not want to happen. Research has suggested that the most successful reentry plans involve comprehensive pre-release community in-reach and post-release community out-reach programs that lower the risks of offender recidivism. Promising planning efforts pre and post-release need to address the challenges of reentry through invested community in and out-reach organizations but be careful not to provide services that may be too much of a servant-hood rather than a combined effort of successful planning and implementation. When the servant-hood towards individuals is eliminated and a cohesive strategy of “community” is embraced the inmate will positively benefit from his own sense of accomplishment and contribution to society. Many persons do not feel a sense of urgency, calling or responsibility when we are continually handed services and not given the opportunity to utilize our human potential of craft to contribute to those around us. When a person is not given such an opportunity, feelings of inadequacy, isolation, and self-doubt will persist and this void will have to be filled, often times those who have only be expected to be criminal by society (released prisoners) will turn again to criminal behavior to fill the void that has been left by a society that has entrusted them with little, to gain intrinsic and tangible accomplishments.
The Urban Institute reported in 2011 that prisoners returning to neighborhoods perceived to be unsafe and lacking in social capital are at greater risk of recidivism. Community-based organization respondents who viewed their communities as safe and good places to live were much less likely to return to prison and more likely to be employed than those who reported their communities were unsafe or characterized by low social capital. In addition, those who felt that drug selling was a problem in their neighborhood were more likely to have engaged in substance use after release than those living in neighborhoods where drug selling was not perceived to be a problem (Urban, 2011).
Community-based programs like Project Reentry have made a profound impact on successful reintegration efforts of offenders into communities. The services that are available pre and post- release are not only service tools meant for a quick solution that the organization can hand out and then wash there hands from, but instead it builds on the human and social capital that is so vital for success for the inmate and the community.The participants in the Project Reentry program are not just given services in servant-hood, they are participants in a program where they acquire skills, knowledge, interpersonal relationship skills, and reclaim the power of self-worth, accomplishment, and contribution that has been lost behind bars. With combined efforts of the individual and community involvement through programs like Project Reentry, healthy, strong, and cohesive bonds can be formed through reintegration of offenders and the society they are a part of.The importance of social capital is vital within communities. Saul Alinsky, the founder of Industrial Areas Foundation, a community organizing organization has said, “never do for a person what they can do for themselves” this is an important concept for the self and recognizing our potentials and how they can contribute to our communities and vice versa.