The Government Stops Here: Civil Society’s Role in Prisoner Reentry

Diane Mannina /

Prison Cell

The recidivism rate among ex-offenders in the U.S. is massive—upwards of 67 percent. Helping former inmates find and keep a steady job is crucial to bringing this number down.

That’s what makes an article that ran in the Washington Post this past weekend so interesting. Michelle Singletary is a Personal Finance Columnist who runs the “Color of Money Challenge.” In past years, Singletary has used her writing and personal finance skills to both work with and share the story of unemployed individuals and struggling military families, but this year she is choosing to take up the challenge of working with two ex-offenders, Stephanie Harris and Christine Foote.

In her article, Singletary discusses the many partnerships engaged in transforming these two lives. From the Prosperity Partners Financial Freedom Program at First Baptist Church of Glenarden to the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service—various organizations are joining together to teach and bring about lasting change. It takes a range of institutions to cultivate individual and community flourishing.

As Singletary states:

I have no doubt this year’s challenge will be tough. As a five-time convicted felon, Harris will have to trade her lucrative drug-hustling skills for a low-wage street-cleaning job.

In order for Harris to stay out of jail, a kind of change will need to take place that rarely happens outside of relationship. This change of character requires a robust civil society in which individuals working through churches, ministries, community groups and friendship help teach values like integrity, self worth, and personal responsibility.

As workforce development specialist Rhonda Gaines states:

[These two ex-offenders] will have great appreciation for being a part of society, and being truly self-sufficient…[e]specially if they learn from you what to do with the money once they have earned it.

Singletary’s story is just one example of many innovative partnerships taking place today among faith-based and community groups. You can explore more of this good work by watching the Heritage Foundation’s new video lesson: Restoring Dignity and Purpose: The Importance of Work. In it you’ll find more examples of civil society institutions doing the hard work of transformation in the life of ex-offenders—work that government simply cannot do.

For more information on effective solutions for human need, visit www.restoringsocialjustice.com.