COVID-19

Those released from prison find reentry much harder due to COVID-19

Samantha Max Jul 14, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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A Project Return staff member counsels a former prison inmate in the organization's parking lot. Photo courtesy Corey Richard/Project Return
COVID-19

Those released from prison find reentry much harder due to COVID-19

Samantha Max Jul 14, 2020
A Project Return staff member counsels a former prison inmate in the organization's parking lot. Photo courtesy Corey Richard/Project Return
HTML EMBED:
COPY

For inmates who have served their sentences, reentering society after a lengthy stay in prison is difficult even in the best of times. But these days, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s harder than usual. Jobs are scarce, resources are limited and support systems are strained.

Bettie Kirkland, executive director of Project Return in Nashville, said many people who have recently been released from prison are hitting roadblocks. “In good times, it’s difficult. In a pandemic, it is terrible,” she said.

Kirkland’s organization helps hundreds of newly released Tennesseans transition into the workforce each year. But she said that many of those jobs are in industries hit hard by COVID-19, like hospitality and manufacturing. 

Inmates at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Tennessee learn to code in preparation for future tech-industry careers. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, jobs have been hard to find for those leaving prison. (Samantha Max/WPLN)

Even before the pandemic, the Prison Policy Initiative estimates, formerly incarcerated people were unemployed at nearly five times the rate of the general population. Now, Kirkland estimates, about 75% of her clients have lost their jobs.

She said Project Return has had to shift gears, to address more immediate needs. 

“We are spending more money on buying people tents and sleeping bags and putting people up in hotels. It’s a fairly desperate situation,” she said.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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