The road back to society can be difficult for ex-prisoners.
Dena Hanley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Akron, whose doctoral degree is in criminal justice, said it is extremely difficult for prisoners to get back into society after serving long sentences.
“The cards are usually stacked against long-term imprisoned,” she said. “There are a lot of hurdles and obstacles on so many different levels.”
Society, she said, wants to make sure the inmate has been “fixed,” and for victims of ex-offenders, the crime is still “very real to them.” And even if the former inmate is doing great things, she said, “victims are still focused on what the offender did.”
Sadly, Hanley said, if roadblocks are put up, some ex-offenders “can’t succeed and they are going back [to prison].”
In a three-year study by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 31.2 percent of ex-offenders statewide who were released from an Ohio prison in 2008 were back in prison in 2011. In Summit County, that rate was 35.4 percent, the state said.
Retired Marion County Sheriff John Butterworth, who served as sheriff for nearly a quarter century until retiring in 2004, said in his experience it is unusual for someone to truly turn his life around after serving a long prison term.
“Folks who get involved in violent crime have a very difficult time in the re-entry phase coming back into society,” he said. “I can count on one hand the number of people who have been successful.”
Butterworth was into his second year as sheriff when Dennis Pounds smuggled a shotgun into his jail cell and took a shot at a deputy in a foiled escape attempt.
It is a credit to Pounds, 62-year-old Butterworth said, that he has been able to do so well since his release from prison.
“Whatever it took for him to do this certainly is admirable,” Butterworth said. “I wish him well and hope that this continues.”
He believes people like Pounds who truly turn their lives around have “made a conscious decision on how they will conduct their lives for what time that they have left.”
Terry Tribe Johnson, re-entry coordinator for Summit County, said Pounds “is very unique” for what he has been through in his life and what he is doing now after so many years in prison, but it is not “totally rare” for inmates to turn over a new leaf.
“People want to make a difference,” she said.
The fact that Keith Luck at Barberton Tree Service knew Pounds from years ago and was willing to take a chance on him, she said, “was a real gift. That doesn’t happen a lot for people who are coming home.”
In fact, she said, being employed “is a huge part of someone’s ongoing rehabilitation.”
There is a lot of stereotyping of ex-offenders, she said. “People want to slam the doors.”
In Summit County, 60 percent of ex-prisoners who return to society never get in trouble again, Johnson said.
“They’ve made decisions to live differently,” she said.
Johnson called re-entry a community issue.
“The more a community can welcome someone home, the better the community will be,” she said.
For more information about re-entry, go to the Ohio Ex-Offender Reentry Coalition website at www.reentrycoalition.ohio.gov or call 614-496-3312. Or go to the web site of the Summit County Reentry Network at www.uwsummit.org/CommunityInvestment/reentryprogram.htm or call 330-643-2003.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.