When you’re newly released from prison, you’ll be faced with rebuilding your life and planning for your future, without getting mixed up in illegal activities which could put you right back in jail. As a former inmate, this won’t always be easy and you should expect to face significant challenges, at least initially. Some help is available, though, and this includes limited financial assistance for released prisoners.
The best time to learn about resources that can help you with re-entry to society is during the period before your release. If your release date or the release date of a family member is fast approaching, you need to start work on an action plan as soon as you can.
In this guide, we’ll explore what financial assistance you may be eligible for, as well as some other important steps you should take to get your new life off to the best possible start.
Identity Documents And Social Security Number Card
As a newly released prisoner, it’s essential that you have all of your documents in order. You need to show your ID for everything these days and normal life will be next to impossible without your ID.
If you don’t have a valid ID, make getting one a top priority. You’ll need an ID to get a job, find a place to live, open a bank account, get a phone (also essential these days), and apply for financial assistance.
For most people, ID means a state-issued driver’s license or ID card. Some states have programs in place that provide a state-issued driver’s license or ID card to eligible inmates upon release. If you are still in prison, ask an official at your facility what you need to do to get started.
States with an ID reentry initiative in place include California, Illinois, Florida, Washington, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Minnesota. This isn’t a full list and if you have already been released, you should search online for “ID for prisoners” or “Reentry ID” followed by your state, to see if you can get help obtaining your ID.
Your Birth Certificate is the foundation document that you’ll need to apply for a recognized form of ID. If you don’t have a copy of your birth certificate, apply at your state’s vital records website or office.
A Social Security number is another essential document. The fastest way to get your social security number if you don’t already have one or if you need a copy of your card is to go to your local Social Security office. At the office, they can issue you with a number there, and then a mailed-in application can take weeks.
Bank Account & Finances
A bank account is a must for everyone in today’s world.
If you’ve been in prison for a very long time, you may have been used to picking up a pay packet with actual cash inside at the end of the week. Those days are long gone.
Now your wages are paid into your bank account. Your landlord will also usually ask for a check or direct deposit payment for your rent, and utility companies expect payments the same way.
You will need an ID, social security number, and proof of address to apply for a bank account. Because your finances will initially be fairly limited, look for basic accounts that don’t charge fees.
Chime is an online bank that offers bank accounts for people with poor or no credit history. Their Second Chance Bank Account has no monthly fee and no fees for using their debit card. The online application takes 2 minutes and they don’t carry out a credit check.
Because your credit report will have been impacted by your time in prison, it’s important to rebuild your credit history. A good credit score will make it possible for you to rent a home and finance a car.
Having a bank account in good standing is the first step in the process, as is making payments towards any outstanding debts from your past, as well as those incurred as a result of your offense.
Paying bills on time for any utility contracts and mobile phone service you have will also help to re-establish a good credit score.
For expert help at no charge, you can speak to an advisor at The National Foundation For Credit Counseling. Their advisors will help you devise a plan to rebuild your credit safely, and they can also help you work out the best way to tackle your debts.
What Housing Assistance Can You Get?
Leaving prison without knowing where you are going to live is a major cause of anxiety for soon-to-be-released prisoners. Unless you have friends or family ready to offer you a place to stay, you will need to find safe accommodation.
This will most often be transitional housing or halfway house accommodation.
Transitional housing is short-term accommodation for people in crisis who would otherwise be homeless. Lengths of residence can vary from a couple of weeks to as long as 24 months.
Accessing transitional housing will take care of your need for shelter and it will give you an address that you can use to open a bank account and apply for jobs.
Some halfway houses also provide food along with some reentry assistance for released prisoners.
Once you’ve found a stable job, you can begin to look for your own place.
The Salvation Army is a nationwide charity that provides transitional housing and other services that can help ex-offenders reenter society.
Another charity that you could speak to about your housing needs is Catholic Charities USA. Go to the Find Help page on their website, then use the interactive map to get a list of Catholic organizations in your area. This charity also helps with food and can help you with your job search.
If you haven’t left prison yet, speak to your counselor, prison chaplain, or other prison services professional to find out if they can direct you to more housing resources.
Once you have been released, you may be linked to a social worker. If this is the case for you, then your social worker will be able to help you find somewhere to live.
Education & Skills
If you’re still within the justice system, make sure that you take advantage of every opportunity to increase your skills and education. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that almost 70% of State prison inmates lack a high school diploma.
Without this basic education certificate, you will find many doors to decent jobs firmly shut, so making the effort to secure your GED will be well worth the effort.
Difficult family circumstances may have prevented you from getting your high school diploma, or maybe the school classroom just wasn’t a good fit for you, but that shouldn’t deter you from seizing the chance to get that all-important qualification now. Enroll in an inmate GED course as soon as you can.
And if you have already been released from prison, there are programs you can access to study for and sit the GED exam.
The first resource you should use is your probation or parole service, which will be able to help you access the right courses. Alternatively, search for state programs that offer a GED course for adults.
Your state or city Reentry website should also be able to point you in the right direction. Passing a basic computer skills course will also be an excellent addition to your resume.
Of course, education isn’t limited to diplomas, and having in-demand skills will make it much easier for you to find work. While you’re in prison, find out what vocational courses are available at your facility and sign up.
You could train to be a mechanic, or chef, or take an esthetician course, for example.
Finding A Job When You Leave Prison
Because there is little financial assistance for released prisoners, you’ll need to find a job as soon as you can.
Finding a job is hard for individuals fresh out of the justice system. Many employers ask about criminal convictions in job applications and most large employers carry out background checks which will reveal a criminal past.
However, there is some good news. So far 35 states prohibit employers from asking about convictions on job application forms. And a new nationwide initiative called the Second Chance Business Coalition is working to remove barriers to employment for individuals with a criminal record.
With several major companies already signed up, your employment prospects are much better than they were just a few short years ago.
Some of the companies involved in the Second Chance initiative are Kroger, Best Buy, CVS Health, Home Depot, Target, McDonald’s, Walgreens, Lowes, and Walmart.
These companies don’t guarantee to employ you, but they won’t automatically reject you because of your conviction.
Second Chance companies, look at your skills, your character, and the nature of your convictions when they assess you for a position. And in many cases, it’s a good business sense for them to hire ex-offenders because of the tax benefits involved.
You can go to their website to find a full list of employers already onboard, and it makes sense to apply to those companies first when you start your job search.
If you are eligible for SNAP benefits, you should also ask the agency about their Employment and Training program, which helps people on low incomes improve their skills.
Financial Assistance For Released Prisoners Eligible For Social Security Payments
Many individuals leave prison with significant health issues or disabilities which meet the qualifications for Social Security assistance. These benefits are the main form of financial assistance for released prisoners and they are subject to eligibility rules.
Social Security Disability Insurance
If you were receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) before you went to prison, you can begin receiving payments the month after your official release.
To get your payments reinstated, contact the Social Security Administration as soon as possible and tell them you have been officially released from prison and want to claim your disability benefit.
You’ll need to send them a copy of your release paperwork and they cannot process your claim until the paperwork is received, so get those documents over to them without delay.
If you developed a disability or condition that meets SSDI eligibility requirements while you were in prison, contact your Social Security office to begin the claims process.
You should be aware, however, that residents in halfway houses are not eligible for payments.
Supplemental Security Income
If you were in receipt of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) before you went to prison, you will be able to reactivate your claim if you were in prison for less than 12 months.
If your prison term was over 12 months, you will have to make a new claim and go through the approval process. Contact your local Social Security office to begin the claim process.
Once your claim is approved, you will be enrolled in the Medicaid program as well.
Food Stamps & Food Pantries
You may be eligible for food stamps depending on your circumstances upon release from prison. Food stamps are issued through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). You’ll need a Social Security number to apply for SNAP benefits.
Currently, individuals with felony drug convictions may be required to pass drug tests to access SNAP benefits.
Your eligibility for food stamps as a single adult under the age of 50 is limited to 3 months of assistance in any 36-month period. And to be approved for SNAP, you need to be able to prove that you’re working for at least 80 hours per month, or taking part in a work or training program.
SNAP benefits are means-tested and the total income of your household will determine if you are eligible for help.
While federal rules state that SNAP applications must be processed within 30 days, emergency applications must be processed within 7 days. To get the help that you need, make sure that you apply under the 7-day rule.
Some states have partnerships in place that allow inmates to apply for SNAP benefits in the run-up to their release from prison so that they have access to food stamps on the day of their release.
Food pantries are run by churches and other charitable groups.
United Way provides assistance nationwide and you can find your nearest food pantry by searching online for “United Way” followed by your city or state.
Another way to find a food pantry is by using the Find A Food Bank page at feedingamerica.org. Use the interactive map to find the main food banks in your area, then visit those websites to see where your closet food pantry is located.
A small amount of financial assistance for released prisoners comes in the form of Gate Money. The sums involved are very small though, and in some states will only be enough to cover a modest bag of groceries.
If you receive a higher payment of $100 or more, spend it wisely. A good purchase would be a cell phone with prepaid minutes so you can stay in touch with your parole officer, social worker, and any other professionals involved in your release.
Cell Phone Assistance
A cell phone is essential for job applicants these days, released prisoners may be eligible for subsidized phone and internet via The Lifeline Program.
If you are in the SNAP program, receive SSI benefits or have an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty level, you can apply for The Lifeline Program.
Various phone carriers offer plans under the program and you should shop around to see who has the best overall rates before committing to a plan.
How Churches And Charities Can Help
Local churches can be a great resource for released prisoners.
As well as providing basic help via food banks and through their clothing and home furnishing donations, churches are communities. And within those communities are local business owners who may be willing to give you a job.
Other church members will be pillars of the local community, and once they get to know you through your regular attendance at services, or your participation at church events, they will be able to act as an important character reference for you.
Take every chance that you can get to build up your network. With a broad network, you’ll hear about more job openings and homes for rent, and you’ll have people actively looking out for those opportunities for you.
And don’t underestimate the importance of the social and emotional support that a member of a church can provide.
Other non-faith-based charities can help with education and skills training, addiction, emergency accommodation, food parcels, legal help, debt management, and help to negotiate bureaucratic mazes.
Often when you contact one charity, they will be networked with other organizations in your area and will be able to help you access a wider range of services.
None of these charities will come knocking on your door, though. It’s up to you to search for every resource you can find, then make phone calls, send emails, turn up to community outreach events, hunt down the local soup kitchen, and knock on doors.
Don’t let pride stop you from seeking help. Everyone needs help to get back on their feet at one time or another, and for you, that time is now.
The world can seem cold and impersonal, but plenty of good-hearted people are busy doing everything they can to help people down on their luck. You just need to make the effort to find them.
Frequent-Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can You Get SSI For Post Incarceration Syndrome?
To qualify for SSI, your condition must prevent you from working on a regular basis. Mental health disorders eligible for SSI are listed under section 12 of the Disability Evaluation Under Social Security on the Social Security Administration website. The eligibility criteria are complicated and you will need medical evidence of your condition to be able to make a claim.
What Is Post-Incarceration Syndrome?
Post Incarceration Syndrome (PCI) is a condition affecting the mental health of individuals who have been in prison. Symptoms of this condition include PTSD, antisocial behavior, and personality changes as a result of becoming institutionalized. Treatment can help affected individuals manage their condition and help them to begin to function normally again.
What Help Do Prisoners Get When Released?
Prisoners may receive a small amount of Gate Money when they are released from prison. Parole officers and social workers will be able to help with securing accommodation, as will several charities and organizations involved in reentry programs.
Released prisoners may be eligible for food stamps and other food assistance is available via food pantries. Prisoners eligible for Social Security can make claims for SSDI and SSI upon release.
What Happens When Prisoners Get Released?
When a prisoner has completed their sentence, they are released from prison with their personal property, a small payment called Gate Money, and a bus ticket if they don’t have any other means of getting home.
Ex-offenders may be required to maintain contact with a parole officer or social worker and may have to live in a halfway house as a condition of their parole.
When you leave prison, you will face significant challenges in readjusting to normal life and in getting your basic needs taken care of.
While financial assistance for released prisoners is limited, other help does exist to aid you with accommodation and food, and many companies have joined the Second Chance Initiative to remove the barriers that prevent felons from finding the jobs they need to get their lives back on track.
Robert Eric (a lover of Cats and Dogs) is the co-founder of HireFelonsJobs. In our search for a better life, after… A platform was created for the purpose of easing the search for ex-convicts.