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Giving Prisoners a Second Chance Means Removing the Barriers to Reentry

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"It says here that you are deceased," the bank manager said. After I assured him that I was very much alive, he typed a few more search terms. He then placed one finger into the air and brought it down on the return key.

"Nope, it still says you are dead," he said.

A federal prison had just released me into a federal halfway house, and I was trying to open a bank account for the first time in over a decade.

The halfway house had told me that I could not start working until I had a bank account, and now the bank was telling me that all three credit bureaus listed me as deceased.

When I went back to the halfway house and asked for help, the staff told me to hire an attorney to contact the credit bureaus.

What wonderful advice! All I needed to do was to hire an attorney to contact the credit bureaus, so I could obtain a bank account to start a job, so I could make some money because I had none.

Yes, I was living one of those DirectTV "don't wake up in a roadside ditch" commercials.

And my reentry experience was not an anomaly.

Every year state and federal prisons release more than 650,000 people, a population equal to that of Seattle or Boston. Rather than providing the means for a successful transition, many states and the federal government hurl prisoners out into the world with little or no support.

It is therefore no wonder that these policies threaten public safety and the public fisc because over two-thirds of released prisoners will reoffend and land back in jail or prison, at the hefty cost of approximately $30,000 a year.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. During his State of the Union address in 2004, President George W. Bush said, "America is the land of the second chance and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life." President Bush went on to sign the Second Chance Act providing funding for prisoner reentry programs. But Congress has since reduced and cut portions of a program that could save state and federal governments millions in the costs of corrections.

In addition, many current state and federal laws interfere with the rights of full citizenship, regulating former prisoners to second-class citizenship. For example, the Sentencing Project recently reported that approximately "1 of every 40 adults is disenfranchised" and cannot vote due to a current or previous felony conviction. These felon disenfranchisement laws have a disproportionate impact on African American communities where nearly "1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than non-African Americans."

These policies undermine our nation's commitment to providing people with a fresh start to rebuild their lives and become productive members of society.

"I think, believe in the idea of redemption, that people can get a second chance, that people can change," President Barack Obama once said.

Believing is one thing, but until we remove some of the barriers to prisoner reentry, our country's commitment to second chances will never be a reality.