Walk down the street in Chicago or anywhere in America, and chances are, you will find someone who has benefited from a second chance. After all, one in three Americans has a criminal record, and 95 percent of those currently in prison will one day re-enter our communities. They face a great challenge.
While individual circumstances may vary, it’s always true that getting a second chance comes first—and it’s never too late to renew and build coalitions to provide those opportunities. With the recent passage of the landmark prison and re-entry First Step Act, there is tremendous potential to continue addressing over-criminalization and to see people for their potential, not their past mistakes.
There is much to do in Chicago and elsewhere, according to the latest State of Opportunity in America Report by the Center for Advancing Opportunity, which Koch Industries and the Charles Koch Foundation formed in 2017, in partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. For their second annual report released last month, Gallup researchers surveyed Americans in areas of concentrated poverty (or “fragile communities”) across multiple cities, including Chicago, Birmingham, Alabama, and Fresno, California. They also looked at factors that block or improve access to opportunities, focusing on how residents perceive and interact with their local police and the criminal justice system.
Of the three cities studied, distrust for local law enforcement and the criminal justice system was the highest in Chicago. Among fragile community residents in Chicago, distrust of police was 51%, compared with a 37% average for all cities. Six in 10 Chicago residents in fragile communities said they had a negative opinion of law enforcement, compared with 42% in the rest of the U.S. Only about one-third of Chicago’s fragile community residents said they have “a lot” of respect for their local police, compared with 48% elsewhere. Almost half in Chicago (48%) said that people like them are treated fairly or very unfairly by the courts and legal system, compared with 32% in other cities.
Findings like these reinforce why we support Safe Streets & Second Chances, a partnership between Koch Industries, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Florida State University’s Institute for Justice Reform and Development that takes an evidence-driven approach to dealing with the causes of repeat offenses and recidivism. It aims to transform prisons from warehouses into places where people can receive individualized reentry plans on the first day of their sentence to get the tools, training, and treatment they need to reintegrate into our communities as productive, law-abiding citizens.
Currently, the program is in four states—Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Texas—and hopes to replicate its success elsewhere this year. Half of the 2,200 participants are receiving existing services offered by the prison, while the other half will receive the Five Key Model for Reentry developed by lead independent researcher Carrie Pettus-Davis. These include developing healthy thinking patterns, meaningful work trajectories, effective coping strategies, positive social engagement, and positive interpersonal relationships.
Chicago is fortunate to have access to organizations such as the Safer Foundation, one of the largest nonprofits focused on improving outcomes for those with criminal records, as well as Uptrust, which has improved court attendance to 95% among defendants and reduced failure-to-appear offenses by 75% in multiple jurisdictions. Each year, more than 700,000 people finish their time in prison and re-enter communities across the U.S. It is in everybody’s best interest to improve the system, in Chicago and beyond, to secure second chances for those who seek them. We can work to ensure that those receiving second chances today might be the same people who can give them tomorrow.
Jenny Kim is deputy general counsel and vice president of public policy at Koch Industries.