Life After ‘17 to Life’

The New York Times

By Joseph Rodriguez and Nell Bernstein

In California, known for decades as one of the nation’s most avid jailers, the trajectory of law and order is shifting. Through litigation, legislation and a series of ballot initiatives, the state’s prison population has dropped 25 percent over the past decade.

The photographer Joseph Rodriguez has been documenting crime and punishment in California for years and recently focused his gaze on the migration home, in Stockton — a barren outpost in California’s Central Valley.

Gretchen Newby, executive director of the Stockton-based nonprofit Friends Outside, which provides support to prisoners and their families, said the city was experiencing a “cluster effect”: Large-scale arrests two or three decades ago have combined with newly relaxed parole requirements, leading to the release of long-term prisoners back to the city. Those who have family tend to find their way. But long stretches behind bars leave many without support. “It’s common to come out with untreated illness, chronic conditions due to age and neglect,” Ms. Newby said. “How are they going to live?” Friends Outside case managers work to answer this question, lining up job interviews and transitional housing.

The roughly 600,000 men and women who leave incarceration nationwide each year are the long tail of the nation’s prison boom. Finding housing tops the list of challenges they face, followed by getting and keeping a job. These practical barriers are compounded by internal obstacles. Researchers report high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as histories of abuse and neglect among prisoners. These early wounds are compounded by the violence, humiliation and bone-deep isolation of the prison experience.

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