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Simulation shows challenges of ex-offenders transitioning back into society

Studies show most of the people who walk out of Delaware prisons end up back there within three years. Delaware State University and the U.S. Attorney’s Office held a simulation for state lawmakers and others to help them understand the challenges former inmates face after their release.

Delaware Public Media’s Sarah Mueller participated in that re-entry simulation.

I’m given a packet with my new identity for the next hour.

“So, my name is Andrew and I’ve served seven years in prison for drug manufacturing with the intent to distribute meth. I have a high school diploma and I have 200 dollars.”

There’s four simulated weeks that each last about 15 minutes. I need to hit different stations around the room to get a job, go to counseling and check in with my probation officer. If I don’t do these things, I violate my probation and could go back to jail.

I head first for the employment table, but quickly learn I can’t get a job without a driver’s license.

Simulation participant and House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf said the state shouldn’t let inmates out on probation without having an ID.

“Before they’re even eligible for probation, maybe we should be doing that ahead of time," he said. "So that when it is time for them to be released, they have an ID, they have a social security card in their possession. They have a birth certificate because we’ve set that up so they get a copy of the birth certificate.”

I get an ID and a part-time job. I also make my counseling session. But rent goes unpaid and I can’t buy food. Things get worse when I lose all my bus tickets. Weeks go by as I try to figure out how to replace them so I can cash my paycheck and get to all the places I’m required to go by probation.

Ex-offender Sebastian Corbin said his family helped him get the documents he needed when he was released from prison - as well as show up to his appointments. But he says people who rely on the state for support are basically on their own. He points out inmates leave prison with either a bus ticket or 50 dollars in cash and not much else.

“They’re not going to be motivated to get anything fast," he said. "You don’t need it right now, but yet they want you go out and look for a job and they want you to do this and do that, but they don’t want to support you and back you when it comes time to go get your birth certificate or you, know, because you need time to do all that.”

Jail.jpg
Credit Sarah Mueller
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The jail at the simulation

Corbin has been successful transitioning back into society. I, however, was not. At the end of the four simulated weeks, I had not paid rent and only ate once. And I hadn’t checked in with my probation officer, risking more jail time. But I did better than most of the other participants who already ended up back in jail.

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