When inmates in the United States are released, they face a tough environment that intentionally discourages them from becoming productive members of society.
Due to institutional legal and societal restrictions, ex-offenders face greater challenges than the general population in finding a productive job, securing a stable source of housing, and generally functioning in society.
Before delving into how ex-offenders are affected, consider a recent example.
After serving five years in prison for armed robbery, Anthony Smith was finally freed from Risdon Prison three months ago. However, the change in digital development has made it challenging for him to return to society and lead a normal life.
“There’s no digital experience in Risdon Prison,” he said. “We’ve missed out on five years of technology, and technology has come a long way in five years.”
“It makes me feel belittled; that’s all it does. It makes me feel undeserving.. it’s like mental torture.”
Smith claimed that because of his lack of digital literacy, he had trouble finding employment and accommodation.
“I’ve gone from stacking shelves at Woolworths to picking up rubbish. I’ve looked at heaps of jobs and most people want you to register online. Why can’t you just drop a resume in instead of doing the resume online? It’s really, really hard,” he said.
Smith wants more money and resources to educate people on the digital skills required to live in today’s modern world.
“We have choices, and we make them, but if they made more support there for us, we wouldn’t re-offend again,” he said.
“We wouldn’t go back to jail; some of us would actually get out and have a good shot at a normal life.
“We just get out of jail, and we’re just released straight onto the streets, nowhere to live, it’s just how it is, it’s how it’s always going to be, I think.”
Case manager Ian Wilkinson works for the Salvation Army’s Beyond the Wire action plan. It helps criminals reintegrate into society. The societal disparity, in his opinion, is pretty significant.
According to Wilkinson, there are opportunities to acquire digital skills through the 21 TasTAFE-run courses provided in the state’s prisons. However, he said that Mary Hutchinson and Ron Barwick, two minimum-security facilities, received most of the classes.
“The idea would be in maximum or medium if they show good compliance, good behaviour, as you progress through your prison sentence, you go up the road to Ron Barwick, then you can access the education process,” he said.
“So people may not actually get access to these while they’re in their sentence,” he added.
Wilkinson asserts that a significant staffing shortfall resulted in convicts spending more time in their cells, which restricted their activities.
“Many inmates had acquired brain injuries, poor mental health, drug and alcohol addiction, and low education, and because programs were run on a voluntary basis, shame could prevent them from participating,” he said.
Wilkinson suggested that we look at countries prioritising education and rehabilitation, such as Norway.
“They copy what’s going on in society, so everything that’s been taught to the prisoner is relevant to what’s going on in society,” he said.
“You’ll find that they have got a shame factor, that they feel that they’re not worthy … they’ve never been told that they can achieve something in their life … so you’ve got to tell them this, you’ve got to motivate them in that space,” Wilkinson added.