Each year, 650,000 prisoners are released from federal and state incarceration, with more than 35,000 of them returning to the city of Philadelphia.
Many re-enter society without jobs or stable homes, suffering from addiction or mental illness, and detached from family and community support networks that are critical for keeping themselves on the right track after prison.
It only gets worse over time. The formerly incarcerated face not only tough personal challenges, but also institutional obstacles to successful re-entry, including a criminal record being a barrier to employment and to access to public housing. Therapy and drug rehab programs are stuck in a complicated labyrinth difficult to access. Often, former prisoners who try to reunite with their children find it’s easier to let them stay under state control.
It’s almost logical that so many former prisoners fall back into a life of crime or drug addiction. One recent study exposed the depth of our nation’s recidivism epidemic: 75 percent those released in 2005 were re-arrested within five years and more than half ended up back in prison.
The repercussions of this trend span generations—affecting the parents and children of prisoners. In the long term, entire neighborhoods suffer.
Philadelphia has the highest per-capita incarceration rate of America’s 15 largest cities and is also bearing an undue burden when it comes to those released: Five percent of all the formerly incarcerated return to Philadelphia, a city with only .5 percent of the U.S. population.
The health and growth of our city is hindered by this revolving door. But even if the numbers are bleak, there are solutions.
The Philadelphia Reentry Reporting Collaborative project is a citywide journalism effort, supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, which addresses the issues of reentry in the Philadelphia region by looking at them through the framework of how problems are being addressed, and which ideas and models show promise based on evidence and data.
The project is an unprecedented collaboration between the city’s general interest, community and ethnic media organizations and newsrooms, working across platforms to reveal and investigate credible responses to challenges of recidivism and reentry, including:
◼ What are the big picture forces that weigh on the lives of the formerly incarcerated and detained?
◼ How does access to programs and education during incarceration impact a returning citizen’s chances at success once they leave?
◼ What are the mental and physical health challenges of the formerly incarcerated and detained, and who is currently addressing these problems?
◼ Who in the Philadelphia community has been making a concerted effort to work with and/or facilitate the inclusion of the formerly incarcerated?
◼ What are the particular challenges faced by underreported groups such as women, juveniles, and immigrants?
◼ How is the city planning to reach its MacArthur grant goals over the next three years?
In addition to groundbreaking solutions-focused journalism, the Collaborative is engaging audiences through live events, screenings and other community initiatives.