How Can I Help? Highlighting Programs and Services for Those Involved with the Prison System

April Mihalovich
May 19, 2021

Despite the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of those involved with the criminal justice system, there are still many opportunities for the advancement of the careers and education of those individuals. Highlighting the areas for improvement within the prison system is essential for bringing changes to help all involved. And looking further at the positive impact of those programs and resources that are working is a great way to create a blueprint for these types of programs and celebrate the success of incarcerated individuals and those working in the field of corrections.

To bring awareness to these programs which best advance the livelihoods of those impacted by the criminal justice system, we’ve created a list of scholarships, informative sources, industry groups, and other programs that provide opportunities for anyone to make a positive impact on the lives of those in the criminal justice system.

For Incarcerated Learners:

In order to ensure equitable resources and opportunities for continued education while incarcerated, scholarship funds and other programs have been created to provide both learning opportunities and the resources to take advantage of such opportunities. Programs such as the Prison Scholar Fund provide monetary assistance to incarcerated learners seeking to further their education. Money from these types of programs can be used toward course fees and additionally the supplies required to complete courses. Other programs like the Prison Education Foundation and the Transcending Through Education Foundation provide education funding for both incarcerated students and students that have been recently released from prison.

While these programs often cannot completely cover the cost of education, when used in conjunction with a Pell Grant they can have a large impact on a student’s ability to provide themselves with an education when they may not otherwise be able to afford one. In addition to these programs, ScholarChips also provides a comprehensive list of scholarships available to different regions of the US that include a variety of different students in their eligibility.

For Correctional Officers:

Programs that are available for correctional officers provide paths for advancement within the career field and the opportunity to learn from peers, receive new training, and undergo trauma therapy. These programs recognize the difficulty of the job and offer resources for furthering one’s career path and providing trauma-based care to correctional officers.

Some grant programs such as the Minds Against Crime Grant give funding to someone working in a job that provides “pretrial, probation, parole or community-based services” in order to help further their career and their impact on the community. Industry groups such as the Correctional Education Association, the American Correctional Association, and the American Jail Association all provide industry connections, training programs, exposure to new industry technology, and scholarships for further study in the field of corrections.

In addition to these industry groups, initiatives like the IAHV Prison Program help reduce violence in prisons by providing stress and anger management programs for incarcerated individuals as well as providing stress management skills for staff working inside of prison facilities. This way, both incarcerated individuals and those who come in contact with them the most have the tools to manage emotions and the stressful environment of prison from both sides.

For Re-Entry:

Outside of scholarships and monetary support, there are a lot of other “hidden” aspects of incarceration that make life more challenging for those involved in the criminal justice system. Post-release, formerly incarcerated individuals are left with little support or connections and new financial obligations. Those who have been incarcerated for a long time may have difficulty learning about what resources are available to them without the help of other people or online resources. Moneygeek provides this essential fact sheet that can be used by incarcerated individuals or those close to them to create a release plan. This site outlines the steps necessary to ensure success and provides additional resources for each component of the release plan.

Another often overlooked part of an individual’s release from prison is healthcare. Sustaining the care that a person needs both inside prison and post-release is a difficult area to navigate alone. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provides a guide to understanding health insurance in prison, post-release, and how these plans affect dependents outside of prison. This is an essential resource for understanding this new type of insurance and how one can qualify. Additionally, this card from the National Institute on Drug Abuse is a great resource that can be used by prison facilities to equip individuals for release, or even by a formerly incarcerated individual to fill out on their own. This card helps identify triggers for addition and outline a plan if the cardholder is medically compromised.

Beside these helpful resources and fact sheets, there are also programs created to combine the allotment of resources, mental health care, education, and the creation of a post-release plan. These programs, like Re:Store Justice, the Prisoner Reentry Network, and the Volunteers of America, provide complete care and services to individuals who have been released from prison. This support ranges from strategic mentoring and success programs to homeless and disability assistance that provide aid of all areas to their participants. Programs such as these emphasize the importance of caring for the whole person and providing strategies to combat lifelong and systemic issues that individuals released from prison face.

How to Help:

How can individuals outside of the prison system help to provide this much needed aid? Other than well-known national organizations, anyone not directly involved with the corrections system might not know what resources are most needed and how to help provide those resources to their local community.

First, any donations to the organizations and programs that provide essential goods and services to correctional facilities are always needed - especially during the COVID-19 pandemic so that these programs can continue their offerings. Additionally, the American Jail Association has a Relief Fund available for corrections officers impacted financially by COVID-19. Donations to this fund allow for larger and more frequent need-based funding to be given to those in corrections who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Another way to help support incarcerated individuals from outside prison is by donating books to prisons so that those incarcerated individuals in isolation or with movement restrictions are able to learn or find entertainment through literature. The Prison Book Program provides a comprehensive list of regional locations and programs that distribute books to prisons.

Initiatives for small items such as books and personal care are just part of the whole picture of items and resources needed for survival. Many of the goods, services, and routines available for those outside of the prison system are often not found or not as accessible inside of prison. Upon release, individuals who have been incarcerated for a long time may not know how to access the resources that seemed “simple” before entry into prison, such as transportation, healthcare, and personal connections to those on the outside. Support of programs that help provide these services and give guidance to individuals post-release is essential to ensure that those involved with the prison system are able to live a life of quality and safety.

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