Life After Prison Re-entering Society After Incarceration


When prisoners are released back into the real world, they face many obstacles that make it difficult to find their place as productive members of society. Everything from finding employment and a home to everyday tasks such as operating a smartphone and even making decisions like when to go to sleep can be disorienting and overwhelming.

To successfully reenter society, ex-offenders must meet basic life needs: livelihood, residence, family, health, criminal justice compliance, and social connections. Fulfilling these needs greatly reduces recidivism, or relapse into criminal behavior, measured by rearrest, reconviction, or return to prison within three years of the prisoner’s release.


Getting a job makes it less likely for an ex-offender to get arrested again, but there are numerous barriers that limit employment opportunities. First, there are traits that make ex-convicts undesirable job candidates. For example, approximately 70 percent of offenders and ex-offenders never finished high school. They often have limited work experience prior to being incarcerated and can suffer from health issues such as substance abuse, emotional disorders, depression, AIDS or HIV.

Formerly incarcerated candidates also have to overcome prejudice from employers, just to get an interview. According to the Bureau of Justice, only 12.5 percent of employers said they would accept an application from an ex-convict. Some employers might worry about the risk of being sued for damages resulting from “negligent hiring.” Negligent hiring is a claim based on the belief that an employer is responsible for knowing about signs of dangerous or untrustworthy characteristics in an employee’s background and can be held accountable should injuries occur as a result of a risky hire. Employers have lost 72 percent of negligent hiring cases and faced an average settlement of $1.6 million.


Since many ex-cons only qualify for low-paying jobs, it’s difficult to afford housing on their own. While they often would qualify for public housing, vague wording can cause Public Housing Authorities to believe they must turn them away, perpetuating the widespread myth that convicted criminals are banned from receiving housing assistance.

The truth is that HUD does not have a blanket ban on all ex-offenders. Public housing cannot be given to anyone registered as a sex offender and anyone convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine, however PHAs have the power to make their own policies on whether other ex-offenders can participate in public housing and Section 8 programs.


Those who maintain close relationships with their loved ones while in prison have an easier time rejoining their families upon release and are less likely to return to prison. Unfortunately, relationships can be tough to preserve due to barriers that include limited or confusing information about visiting, difficulty scheduling visits, and embarrassing visiting procedures. Over half of incarcerated adults are parents of minor children, and parent-child visitation can also suffer because visiting areas are not suitable for children and foster parents are unwilling to help with visitation.

Prisoners are usually far away from their families, and families can’t afford the visit. Incarcerated men are an average of 100 miles away from their children, incarcerated women are an average of 160 miles away. In fact, 1,300 inmates which make up 43 percent of Hawaii’s state prisoners are being held almost 3,000 miles from home at Saguaro Correctional Center in the middle of the Arizona desert. Hawaii started sending prisoners to the mainland as a response to overcrowding in 1995. It was supposed to be a temporary measure, but the state continues to renew its contract with the private-prison organization. The most recent contract was signed in July 2016 for three years at an estimated cost of $45 million a year.

“It’s been about political cowardice and the cost of [building] a new prison,” says Meda Chesney-Lind, a professor at the University of Hawaii who studies incarceration. “It’s a very abhorrent policy, but the state has more or less normalized it.”

Health and Sobriety

A study from Oxford University found that one in seven prisoners has a psychotic illness or major depression and about twenty percent enter prison with substance abuse problems. The study suggests a link between psychiatric disorders and violent offenses, indicating that psychiatric disorders are responsible for 20 percent of violent crimes committed by male former inmates and 40 percent of violent crimes by female ex-offenders.

Others have chronic physical illnesses. While medical treatment is generally necessary to treat psychological and physical problems, former inmates do not have access to medical coverage and the care they so desperately need. Once the small supply of medicine they are given upon release runs out, they can easily return to their old way of life, self-medicating with alcohol and drugs.

Criminal Justice Compliance

Specific conditions of parole vary, but there are standard requirements including:
– Must report within 24 hours and continue to report as instructed
– Remain within a set geographic area
– Get permission before changing residence or employment
– Find and keep a job
– Can’t use drugs or alcohol or visit bars
– No possession of firearms or weapons
– Allow parole officers to search of self, home, or vehicle at any time
– Remain a law-abiding citizen

Parole is meant to allow inmates to demonstrate they are capable of returning to society without serving their maximum sentence. However, some argue that parole conditions are so restrictive, it’s easy to get sent back to prison on a technicality.

Social and Civic Connections

Prison life is extremely structured and inmates often become accustomed to the system, the routine, and being surrounded by others in a similar situation as they are. Getting released from prison may sound great, but having to adjust to new technologies and other changes that occurred while they were locked up, especially for inmates who have served long sentences and have been out of society for an extended period, can mean expectations often don’t match reality.

Ex-offenders are free to return to home to their families and communities but must be on their best behavior, so connecting with old friends isn’t an option in many cases. This means the former inmate can feel very out of place and lonely when they need lots of support.

What is Being Done to Help Former Prisoners

With the odds stacked against ex-convicts, it can feel as though we are just continuing a broken system designed to fail. However, there are steps being taken to reduce certain barriers.

Twenty-nine states including Hawaii have adopted some form of a policy known as “ban the box,” which removes the conviction history question on the job application and delays the background check inquiry until later in the hiring process to encourage employers to consider a job candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a criminal record.

The Restoring Education And Learning (REAL) Act, or Bill 3122, was introduced in June 2016 by Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz to reinstate federal Pell Grant eligibility for those incarcerated in federal and state penal institutions. This amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1965 took effect in academic year 2016-2017.

“Giving those in prison the opportunity to earn an education has not only proven to be a successful tool for reducing recidivism and crime, we also know it will save taxpayer money,” Schatz said.

Phone calls and letters to and from prisons need to be screened and are only handled by a few companies. The oligopoly maintains expensive surcharges on communication, making it even more difficult for inmates to stay in touch with family and friends.

Frederick Hutson is an entrepreneurial ex-con who saw a need to make prison calls cheaper. He started, a service that uses VOIP to make calling three-fourths cheaper than competition and also offers photo sharing.

Hawaii Reentry Programs

Successful reentry into society usually involves preparation made while still inside. The Correctional Industries (CI) Division is a work rehabilitation program in Hawaii’s correctional facilities that provides inmates with job experience, transferable skills, and positive work ethic to become a constructive member of society. Inmates have to be on their best behavior and apply and interview for their position at Hawaii Correctional Industries, which has 15 different shops on two islands and aims to be a one-stop shop for their customers with a variety of products and services.

Inmates at Maui Community Correctional Center (MCCC) have access to programs such as substance abuse treatment, basic adult education, cognitive skills, GED, parenting classes, vocational training, and work furlough.

Below are some programs that assist ex-offenders on each island:

Job Services

Honolulu Community Action Program
Oʻahu Worklinks
Big Island: Going Home Hawaii
Maui Economic Opportunity’s B.E.S.T. (Being Empowered and Safe Together)
Maui: Address – 2064 Wells St., Ste. 108, Wailuku, HI 96793; Telephone – (808) 984-2091
Molokaʻi (limited services): Address – 55 Makaena Pl., Rm. 4, Kaunakakai, HI 96748; Telephone – (808) 553-1755
Lānaʻi: Telephone – (808) 984-2091
Kauai: WorkWise Kaua’i


Oahu, East Hawaii and West Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai: Mental Health Kokua (for those with mental illnesses)
Mahoney Hale,
Makana O Ke Akua, Inc.
Women in Need (WIN)
Big Island:
Going Home Hawaii
HOPE Services Hawaii, Inc.
Maui: Ka Hale A Ke Ola
Kauai: Women in Need (WIN)

Family Reunification

Oahu: Strengthening Families Affected by Incarceration (SFAI)
Big Island: Going Home Hawaii
Maui: Aloha House
Kauai: Women in Need (WIN)

Substance Abuse

Oahu, Big Island, Maui, and Kauai: The Salvation Army
Mahoney Hale
McKenna Recovery Center
Big Island:
ACCESS Capabilities, Inc.
McKenna Recovery Center
Maui: Aloha House
McKenna Recovery Center
Women in Need (WIN)

For Native Hawaiians

Alu Like, Inc.
Pūnāwai Program