Illustrating the Life-Transforming Power of Reintegration
This past month you may have come across this news headline:
It is such a tragic story. This young woman had family and community who cared for her, yet they were unaware of her release.
This post isn’t to criticize Correctional Services Canada or any particular Correctional Institution. However, as I read this tragic story, it emphasized for me the incredible contribution community chaplaincy makes.
When an offender is released, they can be walked to the door of the prison, given their belongings and a bus pass, and simply sent on their way, if they have no one waiting to escort them.
Contrast this with the reality that the period following an offender’s release is the most critical in terms of re-offending (rate of recidivism).
Offenders often express that the most stressful time they face isn’t necessarily inside a Corrections Institution. As bleak as it can be, there often develops a rhythm and a pattern to institutionalized life.
What’s most stressful turns out to be the initial weeks and months after release.
Federal Corrections, in particular, involves longer sentence terms, and the world an offender walks out into can seem like a whole new one. Offenders not only have to navigate the complexity of navigating their own finances, dramatically different technology, housing, employment, and relationships, but rejection waits for them at every turn.
Thanks to Google and a deeply connected world of near-instant access to information, the details of their offence are readily available to potential employers, landlords, banks, and other connections.
Rejection, fear, feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, and this stream of logistical challenges—and potential reconnections with toxic relationships or environments—often push parolees right back into institutionalization.
But what if we change that scenario?
What if, on the day of release, instead of being shown the door, handed a bus ticket or being shipped to a halfway home, there's a familiar face waiting for them at that door? And that someone—who already has been extending support during incarceration—drives them to their destination? And they engage in the continued conversation about what the parolee can expect, and where their people and places of support will be?
What if the parolee is introduced to a community of faith that they identify with from (before) day one? And they have mentors and places of connection that can provide support as they navigate "a whole new world" full of new or dramatically altered technology, and the need for income and housing, positive relationships, and an environment that supports healthy spiritual practices?
In fact, when we can provide the above ingredients in an individual’s reintegration it is, with no exaggeration, a game-changer—and a life-changer—for that individual.
The most commonly shared statistic is that when parolees are reintegrated into their faith communities upon release, there is an over 70% drop in re-offending.
That’s staggering, isn’t it? That’s good for the individual, the community, the mentors and volunteers (because we’re always learning a lot!), and frankly, the nation!
I am so grateful for all of our churches, faith communities, Better Life community chaplains and volunteers, whose sacrificial investment makes such a life-changing difference for the men and women we serve. Thank you.
If you’d like to find out more about how you can volunteer, or how your church can be involved in the work of reintegration, I would love to hear from you!
Adam Wiggins, General Director