beyond 144

6 Returning Citizens

The consequences of incarceration last beyond the time served in prison

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens per capita than any other country in the world. Roughly 7 million Americans are currently incarcerated. Following the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, drug regulations were tightened, communities became more fearful of criminality, and new mandatory minimum sentencing laws were enacted. The “tough on crime” movement in America had begun, and with it came a heightened sense of fear and hostility toward those involved in the criminal justice system.

Incarcerated people face many challenges while inside – overcrowding, limited mental health resources, inadequate medical care, shortages of food and privacy, and poor treatment by administrators. These experiences escalate to create a traumatic environment unfavorable to any prospect of successful reintegration. Upon release, many formerly incarcerated people – known as “returning citizens” – are left with no source of income, no employment prospects, and oftentimes no one to turn to for help. The dearth of resources to support this transition contributes to the revolving door phenomenon of incarceration, in which individuals turn to crime as a source of income after release, and subsequently reenter the justice system.

In Georgetown’s “Prison Reform Project” GOVX course, 18 students were led by Professor Marc Howard in a groundbreaking project to highlight the stories of 6 returning citizens. Over the course of 4 months, students worked in groups to produce short documentaries profiling each individual’s struggles and triumphs. The ultimate goal of the project is to raise awareness of the challenges of societal reintegration, and the implications for individuals, families, and communities, as well as to inspire others to involve themselves in efforts to end mass incarceration.



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