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

Samantha Max Jul 14, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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