This letter features reporting from “The Road to Re-Entry is Often Paved With Trials and Tribulations” by Ashley Mahoney, a Pulitzer Center reporting project
Dear Governor DeSantis,
Every single day, people around the world are released from prison, having served their time and ready to return to their lives. However, more often than not, their lives are nothing like they remember. In her article entitled “The Road to Re-Entry is Often Paved With Trials and Tribulations,” Ashley Mahoney illustrates the challenges that people face upon their release from prison. Formerly incarcerated mother Saichelle McNeill describes her struggle finding a steady job to support her family, despite making six figures prior to her conviction. Travis Williams, 27, recounts repeatedly being rejected by proprietors for his record and having to rely on friends and family members for shelter. Such problems are not individual, and they are far from coincidental. The Prison Policy Initiative details that Americans with a criminal record are 50 percent less likely to receive job offers or callbacks than the general public and are ten times more likely to be homeless. While these tendencies have become all too common in the United States, they extend far beyond its borders. A 2011 report by the Quaker Council for European Affairs analyzing data from 16-20 European countries found that 35 percent of incarcerated people are homeless upon their release, and a survey from the German EU and the Penal Reform International office in Amman, Jordan identified employment as one of the “most anticipated difficulties for prisoners on release,” with roughly half of people expecting to receive no support. By and large, formerly incarcerated individuals face hurdles fueled by prejudice. They are discriminated against by landlords and potential employers, as well as local, state, and federal governments, and are unjustly stripped of certain rights which they deserve to regain once out of prison.
This issue is no less prevalent in the state of Florida. For those coming out of prison, it is not unlike having a scarlet letter tattooed onto one’s skin. Not only must they get themselves back on their feet after a period of internment, but at every turn, they are faced with technicalities that further prevent them from meeting their basic needs. I mentioned the difficulty that formerly incarcerated people have getting employed due to their records. Another issue in Florida is that of a driver’s license. One fourth of jobs in Florida require a driver’s license. Floridians are released with only a prison ID, barring them from even applying for these positions, and their chances to obtain a license have gotten slimmer with DMVs shutting down in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that is not all. According to the National Employment Law Project’s “Ensuring People With Convictions Have a Fair Chance to Work,” Florida imposes over 300 restrictions on formerly incarcerated citizens when applying for jobs. While these problems may not seem pressing, continued ignoration can result in dire consequences. Often, the difficulties and discrimination that formerly incarcerated people face drive them back to engaging in criminal activity, or recidivate. Consequently, individuals who were sent to prison for the purpose of reform end up causing more pain and damage than they did in the first place.
Florida’s recidivism rate is 33%, and that number only grows when factors such as unemployment and homelessness are a part of the equation. Formerly incarcerated people desperately need the intervention of the state to help them get access to employment, housing, and education, all of which will help them support themselves and their families and reduce their risk of reoffending.
For all these reasons, I implore you as governor of Florida to help improve the lives of those reentering our society. I implore you to divert funding towards reintegration programs for the 30,000 people released from Florida’s prisons each year. Such programs provide financial aid, counseling, employment assistance, and opportunities for education (both during and after incarceration), with the goal of fully rehabilitating participants to be functioning, happy, and productive members of society. As the leader of this state, you can make access to these programs easier by creating a centralized governmental space for these organizations to connect with the people who need them. With your help, the state of Florida can reduce crime and make strides to better the lives of all its people.
Celeste Zwingel is a junior at Terra Environmental Research Institute in Miami, FL. She was born in Germany and raised in Potsdam, NY, before moving to Florida in 2014. Celeste is passionate about social justice, and is humbled to be able to write about a pressing issue in her community. Aside from writing, Celeste enjoys music, spending time outdoors, and above all, theatre. Acting and singing are her foremost passions, and more than anything, Celeste wants to pursue a career in the performing arts.