Without a job and without a home, the path out of prison for many convicted felons in Connecticut can lead straight into an emergency shelter.
“[For inmates] it’s like, yesterday I was in jail. Today I’m sitting at the bus stop wondering what the hell I’m going to do,” said Nora Duncan, program services coordinator for the Connecticut Association of Non-Profits.
The state offers support services for inmates preparing to re-enter society, but once their sentences are complete, the inmates are on their own. Homelessness and prison reform activists are now pointing to a surging level of recently released convicts in New Haven’s already packed homeless shelters.
Connecticut prisons assist inmates who are soon to be released by educating them about community resources for addiction and mental health, and by advising them on how to secure housing and employment.
Department of Correction spokesperson Karen Oien said the level of assistance needed by inmates varies depending on the crime of which they were convicted, the length of their sentences, and the level of support they have outside of prison.
“No two people are alike,” Oien said. “Some people serve their terms and everything’s in place for them.”
The state has a program called Transitional Supervision that allows non-violent offenders sentenced to two years or less to finish the second half of their sentences outside of prison, under the close supervision of Department of Correction field officers. This program, however, does not target those inmates who have already completed their sentences.
Duncan said the number of people who become homeless and jobless once they leave prison indicates that whatever support services are in place are not enough.
“Even when there’s good quality programs, your problem’s not that,” Duncan said. “There’s just not enough. And without having enough, public safety is at risk.”
And convicted felons have an obvious burden in their efforts to piece together their lives: their criminal record. Public federal housing is not available to people with felony records, even if the offenses were non-violent. And employment can be elusive.
State Rep. Bill Dyson said he empathized with the predicament of convicted felons who are filling out job applications. If they are honest about their criminal record, they jeopardize their chances of even being considered for a job, he said. And if they lie, they risk being confronted eventually by their employers and fired.
“You’ve got them caught between a rock and a hard place,” he said.
Dyson added that employers often discriminate against felons without taking a closer look at whether the past crime would detract from their work.
“Those men and women who are coming out of prison who have no network of support–their options are extremely limited,” said Mary McAtee, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.