As a formerly incarcerated individual, I am deeply familiar with many of the impediments that inhibit a successful reentry. People who return to modern society require certain foundational needs so that they can be deemed reasonably reintegrated. Those needs include nutritional sustenance, having access to stable and reliable shelter, and obtaining financial resources (primarily through employment and potential government assistance) to acquire these needs and more. Without any one of these foundational necessities, the odds of successful reentry for the justice impacted are significantly reduced.
Additionally, in order for returning members of society to obtain relative stability and have the wherewithal to meet some of the higher human needs, such as developing suitable emotional relationships, fostering self-esteem needs, and ultimately, reaching self-actualization, the foundational necessities must be acquired. It isn’t feasible to expect exceptional performance in occupational or educational ventures when individuals are concerned with satiating hunger. In the same vein, returning members of society cannot fully focus on developing their prosocial or professional skills when there is nowhere to rest or sleep comfortably.
Therefore, when the word “success” is tossed around as a measure for justice-impacted individuals, most people are referring to self-actualization, or the fulfillment of one’s talent and potential — a task that requires first meeting those foundational needs. These precepts are the basis for Abram Maslow’s hierarchy of needs paradigm (1943). In his model, Maslow outlined how foundational needs influence higher needs, which are more associated with how the western culture defines “success.”
Thus, it is unsurprising to hear that recidivism (or reoffending) occurs when people have nowhere to turn to for aid or support. Whether it is due to a lack of financial resources or a hold up with the maze of bureaucratic red tape that typifies social service aid, the lack of support muddles people’s prospects to reintegrate successfully. When people are unable to accrue enough to eat, are unable to access enough potable water, and/or barred from a residence, what other alternative is there but to turn to cultures of support that will heed their needs, albeit, at times, through illicit means? The lack of support for formerly incarcerated people’s needs invariably causes distress for both the individual and the general commonwealth.
All of these facets are dramatically emphasized when it regards the formerly incarcerated community because this population has been so far removed from civil society that they return to a quasi-alien culture that is much different than the one they left. This unfortunate cultural dissonance is on full display for those who have served prolonged sentences. For these individuals, motivation may be high, but they lack the support necessary to successfully adopt free-world mores. In particular, these individuals have spent so much time away that family members may have passed away and relationships may have withered to the point of estrangement. They may feel isolated in a world that they don’t understand with minimal support to turn to, leading to feelings of deprivation, ostracization, and undesirability.
As a justice-impacted individual and social service provider, my first line of action when providing service to these individuals is to address housing, food, and financial insecurities. Only after these are resolved could fostering the development of higher needs be appropriate. Initially, the focus is on providing resources that encompass housing, monetary support (food stamps and other government aid), and employment/placement services, particularly services where there are minimal wait times and bureaucratic hurdles. The key is to provide individuals essential resources as soon as possible and to, ideally, teach them to ration and budget immediately for sustainability purposes.
As a consultant in the criminal justice sector, I often purport, advocate, and personally showcase the power of change and redemption. However, these favorable traits and inspiring outcomes are obscured when basic human needs are unmet, lacking, or non-existent. When foundational needs aren’t met, those beloved accounts of perseverance and the comeback stories we long to hear are not feasible results.
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