Vikki Hankins spent 18 years in federal prison for a non-violent drug offense before being released in 2008. She now believes too many ex-felons are set up to fail when so few resources exist to help them integrate back into society.
Prisons can destroy souls, rip apart families and cause mental and emotional torment … so why would a person who has been freed from prison ever want to return?
Good question.
According to a new study by the Pew Center, roughly $52 billion per year is spent on corrections, primarily maintaining the prison system, but this hasn’t prevented offenders from returning to a life behind bars. In fact, there have been cases where people actually requested to go back to prison. So why would people such as Jack Sutherland, Charles Latham, and Ronnie Stienke — cited in the Pew Center study — want to return after obtaining their freedom?
In November of 1990, I was convicted of a non-violent offense, receiving a twenty-three year prison term. Twenty-three years is a very long time for a first time felon facing a petty drug case. It cost the federal government almost a quarter of a million dollars for me to serve this sentence, when only a five or 10 year sentence would have produced the same results – punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation, at a fraction of the cost.
Currently we are facing the threat of a possible shut down of the federal government if Congress can’t agree on a new budget, while looking at billion dollar budget cuts at a time of near-record high unemployment rates nationally and in the states; yet half a trillion dollars per year is spent on corrections, even though it continues to produce high recidivism rates. Take a minute to multiply the amount of money spent on me (quarter of a million dollars for a 23 year sentence) by the one in 31 adults who are either incarcerated or on probation or parole in the U.S. That’s a huge amount of money.
If the new Pew Study shows “4 out of 10 offenders” return to prison within a “three year time frame,” clearly something is not working.
Is prison always the answer, or should the government implement alternative treatments/plans for some offenses that are more cost-effective and safer for American communities?
Ronnie Stienke of Michigan, Charles Latham of Florida and Jack Sutherland of Ohio intentionally took actions to return to prison. One of the offenders wanted to go back believing this was the only solution to his drug addiction, while another — like so many other ex-felons — felt he was never given a chance to make it in society.
With the nation’s present unemployment rate at 8.8 percent, and offenders required to reveal to potential employers their criminal past, it’s no wonder the recidivism rate stands so high. If an offender can’t find employment, it’s tough to see how the recidivism rate will get any lower, and easy to see how it will get worse.
Another serious challenge is finding housing. As with a job application, apartment leases pose the same question – have you ever been convicted of a crime — making it virtually impossible to obtain either, without some kind of support from the city or county or agencies working to assist ex-felons.
Speaking of support … the Second Chance Act of 2007 was signed into law by former President George W. Bush April 9 2008 to provide just that kind of support. This law was designed to improve the outcome for people returning to their home community from prison or county jail. It authorized federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, and other services intended to help the ex-felons get back on their feet — and to reduce recidivism.
In my opinion, this legislation is great but some of these offenders are still not getting the substance abuse treatment they need. More prisons are being built, but a lot less is being spend on treatment centers. As for those who are not substance abusers, their primary need is a job. But which employers are courageous enough to look beyond the “convicted felon” status and hire an ex-convict?
Retired Lieutenant Garry L. Jones, who has worked in both state and federal prison systems, would often see offenders returning to prison and would ask, “Why are you back in here — you just got out?” For those returning to prison, most reply in the same way: “I can’t make it out there. There’s no housing, no job, etc.”
I ran into the same problem following my release from prison; I could not find a job or a place to live. No, I did not return to prison, but instead I slept on the cement floor of a Champion storage rental unit for six months while taking bird-baths in the bathrooms of local malls and corporate buildings.
We need to put that half a trillion dollars we are spending per year into other areas — rehabilitation, not continued punishment.

Contact us at


  1. i concur…i was released with a violense offence…kidnapping ,arm robbery,assault and battery with the intent to kill,among other things …but with out food stamps,fair housing,financial aid and polictical participation .i wouldnt be able to properly prepare for society. non-violent offenses should be afforded the opportunity to properly preparefor society its the best interest of the people in the society in which they will return.

  2. Dear Vikki I can answer that, Most refuse to realize that until they change what they have been brain washed into believing they have nothing other to learen then what they have been taught in the past… This is the crime of the certuries! Everyone is special and we all are alike from rich to poor, Every mind has the capibility to achieve all there is to know, The point is most have no clue that this information even exist, so they return to the hopless state of mind and thinking they were not the chosen ones, The richest society knows that this is not so and we all are capible of eqaul in everything God has given, its the state of mind that deprives all from their true potenial, take care love, Melinda

  3. Well we know that children can not live on $7.25 so we can not ask our men to .

    Felons are not covered under fair housing that means up to 65 million men are living mostly with mom and pop .Pretty disgusting if you ask me its no wonder why many felons commit more crimes .

  4. I am very interested in speaking to you regarding your release and subsequently how you integrated back into society. I am a college student writinga research paper n felony recidivism and how society is not very beneficial in allowing any type of easy reenrty due to employers bias. I’m not only a college student but a felon who spent 7 years in state prison. Very interested, Toni Smith

  5. Yes, ex-felons are set up to fail because the Governments get so much money to lock-up anybody it does not matter if you are con or not. The more they can show on the negative side of anyone, the more reasons they try to take rights away from people. As an ex- felon it makes it easier, because they do not have to use a law. They just call it collateral consequences and as Joe Loya, disenfranchised ex-felon said it” Without a vote, I am a ghost inhabiting a citizens space. An ex- felon has no real rights and it not showed very much reason to stay out of lock-up of any kind. Like they tell you, do you time get out put it behind you and be a productive person. Sounds good but it’s not true, they lie and manipulate you back in crime by making it hard for you to get work, get a home for yourself or your family and says I told you so. They say all law-abiding should be protected by the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. So I ask, if you are an ex-felon and is abiding by the laws and doing your best not to go back, WHAT DOES THAT MAKE YOU?

  6. what about all of (us) taxpayers? supporting convicted felons along with many others one way or another through high taxes for maintaining prisons, food stamps, financial aid – not to mention victimization, loss, etc., is there a solution for THAT? it is our /the government/county/city’s fault and responsibility – is that it ? what is the percentage of successful convicted felons actually turning their lives around for real??? i’ve seen (and know people) who are a great support to help accomplish just that. do convicted felons search out those available services?

    what is the percentage of felons born into families with a history of criminal records who are on, and have been on, public assistance? is it a learned way of life to them? is that also our /the government/county/city’s fault and responsibility?

    those who trudge along in life, push themselves to go to school and stay in school, work jobs they don’t particularly care for might seem ‘boring’, might not be the most ‘fun’ – that’s true. BUT, learning how to make a great life and how to ‘give back’ and not ‘take’ is the long term reward. it takes a LONG time and hard work, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *