Prisoner Re-Entry (CERD Shadow Report, 2008)

Article 5 of the Convention prohibits racial discrimination in all its forms and
guarantees the right to everyone, without distinction as to race, color or national or ethnic
origin, to equality before the law. The U.S. government’s discussion of its compliance
with article 5 reports primarily on access to courts, discrimination by law enforcement,
over representation of minorities in the criminal justice system and prison. However, the
Report did not discuss the impact of racism on prisoners re-entering communities upon
release.
Yet both federal and state policies have racially disparate impacts on prisoners of
color when re-entering. At least 90 percent of the 650,000 prisoners incarcerated every
year will eventually re-enter society. Two-thirds of people returning to their communities
from prison are racial minorities, compared to one third of the general population. Given
the disproportionate numbers of re-entering prisoners who are people of color, existing
government policies and private actions denying rights to benefits, housing, employment,
and education have racially disparate impacts, in violation of articles 2 and 5 of the
Convention.
As noted in the Reports of the Working Groups on Juvenile Justice and Court
Processing, disparities in the types of sentences imposed in the U.S. criminal justice
system reflect clear racial biases. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that in 2005
55 % of adults on probation were white, whereas 45 % were racial minorities. In
contrast, 65.4 % of state and federal prisoners were racial minorities in 2005 This data
strongly suggests a violation of article 5(a) of the Convention: clearly, whites and
minorities are not being treated equally in our justice system. Whites are more often
offered alternatives to incarceration or community supervision while African Americans
and other minorities are sentenced to prison or jail.
Prisoners face many post-incarceration barriers, both legal and social, that hinder
their successful reintegration to society. Legal barriers may include state and federal
restrictions on former prisoners such as disenfranchisement and bars on receipt of
federally subsidized housing, food stamps, social assistance, and federal student aid, as
well as employment and jury duty. The overwhelming majority of state and federal
prisoners are poor people of color. Their families and communities are already distressed
by poverty, racism and exclusion, yet have no choice but to expend meager resources in
an effort to support community members returning from prison. The resulting cycle of incarceration and release plagues poor minority communities and is nearly impossible to
overcome.
Effective programming to facilitate reentry for prisoners should begin long
before a person’s release. Unfortunately this is rarely the case, as funding for such
programs is limited, prison environments are destructive, and the criminal justice system
places little emphasis on reducing recidivism and helping released prisoners make a
smooth transition back to society. As a result, most prisoners do not receive the
treatment, education, or work programs necessary to ensure a successful release while in
prison. In addition, post-release services designed to assist those reentering society in
finding a place to live, securing employment, managing finances, or ensuring continuing
medical, mental health or substance abuse treatment are severely lacking, and
increasingly tied to restrictive eligibility requirements.