By Jackie Horsfall
The Iowa Statewide Recidivism Reduction Strategy presented at a panel at the 2016 Iowa/Nebraska Peer to Peer Homelessness Symposium June 9th on the topic of housing persons re-entering communities. 36 professionals in the housing, shelter and social work industries attended the panel to learn and discuss the challenges of prisoner reentry and housing. The panel included Beth Skinner, Katrina Carter, Debra Dancer, Melissa Perry and Deb Theeler.
Beth Skinner, coordinator for the Statewide Recidivism Reduction Strategy, started off with statistics related to recidivism. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, 68 percent of state prisoners are rearrested in three years and 50 percent of state prisoners are reincarcerated in three years. Skinner commented on the difficulties of released inmates reentering society with housing and employment.
"How do you focus on your job if you don’t know where you are sleeping tonight,” said Skinner.
The panel also included two previous justice involved individuals who spoke on their experience on homelessness and job security after reentry. Deb Theeler, a registered nurse and previous inmate who now helps run halfway houses, described life after prison as scary staying in inadequate housing.
“I wanted to go back to prison with the people that loved me and the people that knew me,” said Theeler.
Melissa Perry, a previous inmate and fellow panelist, described her difficulty finding a job and housing.
“They wouldn’t hire me for my history, they wouldn’t take me” said Perry. “I had to start buying and selling drugs to make money and ended up back in prison.”
A discussion addressing challenges for individuals returning included educating landlords, reducing screening criteria, improving collaboration among service agencies, creating incentives and seamless reentry practices. The panel was asked what they would say to someone who was reentering society.
“You are a new arrival, you are not in the clearance bin, you are arriving as a new person and the world is open to you,” said Theeler.
Perry described how overwhelming everyday life can be.
“Make a little plan, don’t do it all in one day,” said Perry.
Skinner closed the panel discussion by commenting on how important collaboration is when addressing challenges to housing and employment for previous inmates.
“We have to work together so people don’t fall through the cracks,” said Skinner.
The panel included left to right: Debra Dancer, Beth Skinner, Katrina Carter, Melissa Perry and Deb Theeler.