Prisoners concerned about returning to society with corona

Corona makes it more difficult for detainees to return to society in a good way. This is partly due to a stricter leave scheme. As a result, detainees have far fewer opportunities to prepare for a future outside the cell, says criminologist Elanie Rodermond of the Free University of Amsterdam.

The moment a detainee is released and has not been in the outside world before, he only starts to pick up his life on the first day he is outside prison One of the problems ex-prisoners then encounter is dealing with social distancing. We’ve slowly gotten used to it, but someone who just got out falls right in the middle of it.

Rodermond responds to a letter from a 20-year old prisoner from Middelburg to Omroep Zeeland. In it – and in letters that followed – he expressed his concerns about his reintegration. The man has been convicted for his involvement in a bank robbery in Goes, and in November his sentence is over. As a result of the corona crisis his reintegration process was halted.

According to Rodermond, the Netherlands has a relatively high number of short prison sentences; about 75 percent of the cases involve sentences of three months or shorter. Research has shown that good counselling upon a return to society considerably reduces the chance of someone falling back into old habits.

The counselling mainly focuses on assistance in finding housing and a job, but also looks at motivation, belief in one’s own abilities, trust in the future and rebuilding contact with family members.

In many cases detainees are allowed to work outside prison under supervision in the final phase of their sentence. In this way they can gain work experience and get used to the daily routine.

Concerns about the future

Because of corona this all came to a standstill and there were strict rules in prisons. For example, prisoners were not allowed to receive family members for a long time, but probation workers and municipal officials also stopped coming to the prison. Special job fairs were not allowed.

And precisely because finding suitable work has become more difficult during corona, criminologist Elanie Rodermond thinks that a return to the labour market will become a problem. There are also a lot of nonex detainees looking for jobs. The chances of an ex-con getting the job are much smaller. Rodermond is afraid that ex-prisoners will fall back into old habits more quickly as a result. But that won’t become apparent for some time.

What can also play a negative role is social distancing. According to Rodermond, it is known that the social network is important during reintegration and can provide support. Former detainees are regularly financially supported by family members or friends. In addition, ex-prisoners without stable housing often fall back on family and friends for a (temporary) place to sleep. All this is now a lot more difficult because of the stricter coronavirus rules.

An ordinary life

Many questions remain unanswered for the 20-year-old inmate from Middelburg. How should I deal with my family and friends where so much has changed? I’m also a part of society and I have rights.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel like living a criminal-free life and working hard for my money. I really want to show my family and friends that I want to change my life when I get out again. But I don’t just speak for myself: here in prison, we feel forgotten.

Below the item from Omroep Zeeland about the letters. The person in the picture is an employee of the broadcaster.