Second Chance Month is an annual, Prison Fellowship, international initiative to increase public awareness abut the challenges Returning Citizens (those released from prison) must overcome in order to be successful and not re-offend and return to prison.
There are two major misconceptions about Returning Citizens' abilities to be successful. First, our public bias towards those folks who have a felony in their past is based on an outdated reality that is furthered by the media. Before the get tough, zero tolerance laws of the 80s were imposed, we only imprisoned serious offenders. In the 80s we criminalized simple possession of drugs and attached severe prison penalties. Other zero-tolerance with similar penalties followed. Today one in three Americans have a criminal record. They are our spouses, children, neighbors and relatives. Over 90% of people currently being incarcerated will be released into the community. These are our relatives, friends and neighbors. The hardened criminals that we fear remain incarcerated.
The second misconception is that once someone has done their time and paid their time that they are free to return to life with the same opportunities as everyone else. We hold them personally responsible to show us that they are changed and will not get in trouble again. The truth, however, is that when they are released the enter what we call "The Second Prison" where the cell bars and razor wire courtyard are constructed by over 44,000 laws and regulations that prevent folks with a criminal record from obtaining suitable housing, jobs, education, work permits (beverage servers, food handlers, etc), skilled job licenses (barber, pet groomer, massage therapist, medical assistant, etc) or if they can get a license they face employer bias against them and can't get hired.
Acts 519 Ministries joins Prison Fellowship in this initiative to increase public awareness and ask that you and your communities give these Returning Citizens the real Second Chances they need to flourish. Reach out with housing, jobs, encouragement, a helping hand and welcome them into your churches. We believe that people are defined by who they are today and where they are going not by their past. We believe they are washed new and should be given the chance to live the new life they are embracing.