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Opinion: The Financial Knowledge Inmates Need to Reenter Society

Governing

By John Wetzel and Robin L. Wiessmann 

One of the many challenges facing corrections officials and policymakers across the country is how best to prepare prison inmates for successful reentry to society. The scope of this issue varies among states, but the numbers in our state of Pennsylvania are not atypical: About 90 percent of those who are incarcerated – some 20,000 people per year — are eventually released back into their communities.

We believe that a cornerstone of the effort to reduce recidivism rests upon ensuring that, upon their release, inmates have the tools they need to succeed as self-sufficient and independent citizens: a high school or equivalent diploma, job training, and access to housing, medical care and employment. To that list, we would add achieving financial capability.

We have found that inmates too often do not have fundamental knowledge, skills or experience to face the complex financial realities of life. Upon reentry into society, too often they repeat poor financial decisions that helped put them on the path to incarceration. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections did not have the expertise or resources to provide up-to-date, real-world financial training to inmates scheduled to return to their communities. The Department of Banking and Securities, however, has trained staff working with audiences that include community groups, senior citizens, members of the military and veterans, and schools, helping them learn about such topics as creating budgets, managing personal credit, and protecting themselves from identity theft and financial scams.

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