Why Inmates Return To Prison

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: April 8, 2020

Once someone gets sucked into the judicial system and prison system, it can be extremely difficult to get out of it. We have a dangerously high recidivism rate in America, which is the percentage of inmates who return to prison after being released.

When someone is released from prison, the rules we have set up for former inmates are extremely difficult to follow. In addition to following the law and staying drug-free, you are required to have a job and housing, and you must pay a monthly fee while on parole. 

This might sound easy, but it’s actually extremely difficult for many former inmates. This leads us to today’s topic: Why do inmates return to prison?

In this blog post I will cover the following topics:

  • What are the terms of parole when an inmate is released from prison?
  • Are inmates prepared to be released back into society?
  • Who has the power to send you back to prison if you violate the terms of your parole?

What are the terms of parole when an inmate is released from prison?

Most states – as well as the federal government – release an inmate on parole before their maximum date. Instead of staying behind bars until the very last day of their sentence, inmates serve a percentage of their sentence and then they are released to serve the remainder on the streets.

However, there are rules you have to follow when you are on parole/probation. If you break any one of them, you can find yourself back behind bars. 

The main rules of parole are as follows: obey all laws, avoid all illegal substances, pay your monthly parole fee, visit your parole officer when instructed to, complete any assigned treatment programs, get a job, and get a place to live. 

You are also required to keep your parole officer up-to-date on where you live and where you work. If anything changes, you have to tell them immediately. If you don’t, you could end up with a violation and back in prison.

Each one of these rules can be difficult, depending on the inmate’s support system. If they don’t have a friend or family member that they can move in with when they are released, the inmate must go to a halfway house or some kind of housing program, so they have a roof over their head.

Inmates are allowed to rent their own apartments, but finding a landlord who will rent to you can be extremely difficult because landlords can deny you housing due to a criminal record.

The same thing applies when an inmate is trying to find a job. Many job applications ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime, and they require you to check “yes” or “no.” If you check “yes,” that usually means the application goes straight to the trash without consideration.

I’ve also had the experience of getting an interview and a job offer because the application didn’t ask about prior felonies. However, the background check leads to the employer rescinding the offer.

If you don’t have a place to live or a job so you can earn money and support yourself, it can be tempting to go back to a life of crime. This is why most people end up back in prison. If you violate any of the rules given to you as a condition of your release, you are in big trouble. 

The quickest way to go back to prison is to commit another crime. Unfortunately, without the proper tools, education, and support system, this happens a lot more than it should.

Are inmates prepared to be released back into society?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is usually “no.” Many inmates are non-violent offenders with addiction problems, and incarceration isn’t the answer. The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University estimates that of all incarcerated individuals with substance abuse issues, only 11 percent of those that need treatment actually receive it when they are behind bars. 

Mental illness and rehabilitation should be the focus, not punishment for crimes. The drug war has been a massive failure, and instead of locking people up in cages, it would make a lot more sense to decriminalize or legalize drugs, and get people the help they need instead of having a revolving door on our prisons.

One of the worst parts of incarceration is that non-violent drug offenders find themselves around actual violent criminals. A running joke in prison is that people go to prison and learn to become a criminal.

When someone goes to prison for the first time, chances are they were associated with an extremely limited social circle of amateur criminals. In prison, they meet a network of career criminals that could put them down the wrong path. 

Who has the power to send you back to prison if you violate the terms of your parole?

When you violate your parole – no matter if it’s something as simple as missing an appointment or getting behind on your monthly payments – your parole officer will notify the judge in your case. 

This usually means that you will have to go back to court, and if the judge thinks it is necessary, he or she will send you back to prison to finish out your sentence. 

Your parole officer is kind of like your guardian, and they are responsible for you when you are “walking down your paper” (prison slang for successfully completing parole on the streets). Any violations of your parole will go through the PO first before it gets back in front of a judge – unless you get arrested again.

If that’s the case, your PO will find out and meet you in court before you head back to prison.

Why do you think America’s recidivism rate is so high? Let us know in the comments below.


Why Do Former Inmates Keep Going Back To Prison?

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