VOICES: Education must be complemented by employment opportunities, accessible housing to facilitate successful reentry

Sinclair Community College occupies a vital position in the landscape of higher education within Ohio’s prison system, annually serving approximately 3,000 unique students. By January 2024, these individuals had collectively earned an impressive 29,000 credentials. The pivotal role of higher education in mitigating recidivism cannot be overstated, evidenced by the fact that only 8% of college graduates return to incarceration. These credentials serve as powerful tools in preventing reentry into the prison system, empowering individuals to surmount significant obstacles they may encounter upon release.

As Chief Officer of Advanced Job Training and Returning Citizen Initiative at Sinclair Community College, Cheryl Taylor passionately underscores the transformative impact of education on incarcerated individuals.

“Education is not just about earning a degree; it’s about providing individuals with the tools they need to rebuild their lives,” says Taylor. “It’s about instilling confidence, fostering critical thinking skills, and nurturing a sense of purpose and self-worth. By equipping them with knowledge and skills, we empower incarcerated individuals to break free from the cycle of incarceration and build brighter futures for themselves and their communities.”

Upon reentering society, individuals leaving incarceration are confronted with an estimated 40,000 barriers to self-sufficiency. While barriers related to employment, housing, and transportation are frequently discussed, system-impacted individuals must navigate numerous additional hurdles. Some obstacles, such as eligibility for loans or obtaining professional licenses, may not manifest until five or ten years post-release.

In the past, securing employment was often perceived as the most critical and challenging aspect of reentry. Reentry services traditionally focused on developing interview skills, crafting resumes and cover letters, and emphasizing punctuality. However, the exigent need for housing has now superseded these efforts. A recent report from the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio underscores a housing shortage of 18,320 units in our region alone. In Ohio, only 40 units of affordable housing are available for every 100 households, with even fewer accessible in cities like Columbus (26 per 100) and Cleveland (38 per 100). As the demand for housing continues to escalate, service providers and communities must adapt their strategies. Credentials earned for enhanced employment prospects are now being leveraged to secure housing, illuminating the interplay between education, employment, and housing stability.

Our community distinguishes itself in reentry efforts through investments made by the Montgomery County Office of Reentry and the establishment of the Montgomery County Reentry Council. Among its various subcommittees, the Housing Subcommittee shines for its commitment to furnishing and enhancing safe, affordable housing opportunities for restored citizens. Committee Co-Chair, John Zimmerman, explains the committee’s proactive approach, which encompasses organizing tours of correctional facilities to gather firsthand insights from soon-to-be-released individuals. These endeavors have catalyzed the development of resources like the Moving Forward Directory, which links individuals with housing providers willing to extend second chances.

Dedicated service providers diligently labor toward a brighter future for system-impacted individuals. Our community’s resilience lies in our collaborative endeavors, sharing of resources, and advocacy for change. While education within prisons undeniably constitutes a cornerstone, it must be complemented by employment opportunities and accessible housing upon release to genuinely facilitate successful reentry and rehabilitation efforts.

Sean Mitchell has been a long-time community advocate working in the Greater Miami Valley Region non-profit sector for over 20 years. Sean currently works at Sinclair Community College as the Returning Citizen Coordinator.

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