Every year, tens of thousands of Americans are released from prisons and jails, and nearly 1 in 3 Americans have some type of criminal record. Sadly, even after release, these formerly incarcerated individuals face significant hurdles in returning to everyday life after they have paid their debt to society. These hurdles impact their ability to get a job, obtain adequate housing, purchase insurance and more. The list goes on and on.
These legal barriers are a significant driving factor in the high recidivism rates in our country. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), over 80% of people released from state prison are arrested again within nine years. This statistic should be alarming.
In addition to increased recidivism, the lack of housing, job options and the thousands of other barriers that exist at the federal, state, county and local levels have other negative impacts: decreased economic mobility, increased substance abuse rates, higher unemployment rates and more.
First, and most importantly, there is a human cost to the constant cycle of incarceration in our country. These incarcerated people are husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and more. The BJS reports that over 54% of those in state and federal prisons are parents of minor children. Families can be impacted for generations as the lack of housing and economic stability creates a ripple effect.
Second, there is a strong economic argument for why we should encourage second chances. Increased recidivism rates decrease economic mobility, which leads to higher unemployment, increased need for housing vouchers and increased need for other types of economic support.
Some reading this might think declaring support for second chances is taking a position of “soft on crime.” That’s not the case. It’s possible to be tough on crime and also support policies that ensure those that have paid their debt to society can re-enter everyday life without a form of second prison. In fact, ensuring individuals can re-enter society after they’ve served their prison sentence reduces crime rates and makes our community safer.
I am proud to bring forward a resolution declaring April as Second Chance Month in Aurora, Colorado. Jurisdictions across the U.S., including the federal government along with several states and cities have done so in the past, and the number continues to grow each year. I hope to have the support of my colleagues in taking this small step in declaring Aurora is a city of second chances.
I want Aurora to be known as a city that places a high value of human life. I want to be known as a city that supports redemption and second chances. I want to be known as a city that is the best place to raise a family, have a job or start a business in Colorado, and that includes our residents that need a second chance.
Curtis Gardner is an At-large Councilmember for the City of Aurora.