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Colorado corrections leaders rethink the release system for inmates

After nearly a year in his position as the Colorado Department of Corrections Director, Dean Williams is already looking to make a difference in the prison system. There is a concern for how well inmates adjust to life on the outside once released, especially in the case of those adults who serve long-term sentences. This of course is not a new concern for those involved in the justice system, but Director Williams would like to see changes implemented in Colorado.

Colorado Public Radio recently published a story on a former prisoner who served 25 years after being convicted for his part in a robbery that put him away at 17 years old. The article discusses the man’s struggles with culture shock as he reentered the world beyond bars.

In everyday tasks, the former inmate had issues with computers, cellphones and even the idea of paying for gas with a credit card. Underneath, he was struggling with bigger questions such as, “What does it mean to be a man in the 21st century?”

Hardships of reintegration and the need for transition aid

Former long-term inmates struggle with nearly every facet of life when they attempt to adjust to the culture. Such struggles include:

  • Changes in technology
  • Cultural expectations of behavior
  • Social integration
  • Distress from a lack of structure
  • Addictions that may have begun in prison
  • Finding work with a criminal background
  • Lack of familial or social support

There are ways to combat these issues – for instance, through programs that help with the inmate’s transition. Director Williams, however, would like to see transition assistance begin possibly even years prior to the prisoner’s expected release date. The transition period could involve a limited-freedom basis, where the prisoner may work and learn how to adapt during the day but return to the prison at night.

A lot of prisoners who serve long sentences leave their cell and enter the world with habits and survival skills that may not benefit them going forward. Working toward a smoother transition system will not only help ex-inmates, but also the societies in which they reside.

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