Prisoners will get a $2,750 check when they leave prison

The checks are meant to build confidence and help formerly incarcerated people get on their feet again.

In California, like most states, prosecutors can recommend that prisoners who demonstrate rehabilitation while behind bars receive a shorter sentence or early release. 

Now, Fast Company reports, 50 such prisoners who are about to be released will walk out the prison door and receive a check for $2,750. The money is part of an experimental program, funded by private nonprofits, that is designed to help set up prisoners for success in the real world. 

The first 72 hours after a person is released from prison is a critical time in determining if that person will get on their feet or wind up back in prison again.

Gate money: The concept of “gate money” — a little bit of cash upon leaving prison — isn’t new. In fact, a lot of states send prisoners home with some funds in their pocket, generally at least enough for bus fare and a meal. But for most, the cash barely lasts a day. 

Research says that the first 72 hours after a person is released from prison is a critical time in determining if that person will get on their feet or wind up back in prison again — a much costlier outcome for all concerned. 

When people are starting fresh, looking for a job or a place to live, the costs are high: a deposit and first month’s rent, a cell phone and clean clothes for a job interview, transportation to work — it all adds up quickly. But the amount states provide is meager — from zero dollars (in New Hampshire) to $200 (in California). 

Instead of increasing the funds incrementally for everyone, California is experimenting with boosting the amount of gate money by more than tenfold for a few dozen prisoners.

“We need to be setting people up for success. And when you look at people that have not been successful, or you look at recidivism statistics, by and large, the reasons that people are reoffending are because they’re not being able to get their basic needs met,” Hillary Blout, founder and executive director of For The People, a co-creator of the gate money pilot program, told Fast Company’s Kristin Toussaint. 

“They weren’t able to get a job, they weren’t able to get transportation, they showed up to a job interview and they didn’t have anything professional to wear.”

Building confidence with cash payments: The pilot program is launched via a partnership between For The People and The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which offers employment training and services to the newly released. 

“We’re trying to turn this into something that is part and parcel of what happens for people that are coming out of prison”

Hillary Blout

While the money will help people with those initial expenses, there is another goal. Sam Schaeffer, the CEO of Center for Employment Opportunities hopes that the money will help “build confidence among prosecutors and judiciary to say, ‘Yeah, we will release this person, now that we know they have services and money, we feel more comfortable making that release,’” Schaeffer told Fast Company. “That to us is a really exciting idea, how cash assistance could really help accelerate the depopulation of prisons and jails.”

Blout adds that the program could save the state money in the long run. The cost to imprison a person for a year can reach six figures. By comparison, if a couple thousand bucks can keep a person from re-entering the system, then it could be well worth it. 

“We’re trying to turn this into something that is part and parcel of what happens for people that are coming out of prison,” Blout said. “We’ve acknowledged that we need to set people up with housing, we’ve acknowledged that transportation and job training are all important components of people’s reentry plans. . . .We really want to see this cash assistance go hand in hand with that.”

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