Over 3 million people are currently incarcerated within the United States’ justice system, and while billions in taxpayer dollars go toward their confinement, rehabilitation isn’t often stressed much beyond lip service. National recidivism rates run somewhere between 60 percent and 70 percent, which means that a stint in prison isn’t likely to lead to a life of engaged and law-abiding citizenship, and oftentimes, incarceration is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the difficulties that will occur after prison. From problems in obtaining employment to trouble securing housing, past jail time creates a slew of problems that are often hard for even well-meaning people to overcome.
Thankfully, a number of charitable organizations are regularly working to improve the lives, recidivism rates and families of the men and women currently serving time across America. Each of them addresses the needs of the prison population from unique angles. Whether you want to donate your boat or car to help inmates or you’d like to volunteer at a summer camp for prisoners’ kids, here are five different organizations going to bat for the men and women behind bars in America who could use your patronage.
More than 2.7 million children across the United States have a mother or father who is currently serving time in prison. The abandonment, loss, loneliness, financial stress and concern that these children feel are all too real and can have long-lasting effects on their futures.
Angel Tree is a program within Prison Fellowship that seeks to reach out to the children of inmates across the country. By partnering with people in local churches, Angel Tree works to help meet the physical, emotional, financial and spiritual needs of these at-risk children. From Christmas presents and summer camps to financial assistance and family reconciliation programs, Angel Tree exists to help lessen the negative effects of having a parent in jail.
Prison University Project
In 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act passed, effectively barring inmates from receiving Pell Grants for college. This reduction in funding brought the number of prison programs that granted college degrees from 350 to less than ten. In response to that de-funding, The College Program at San Quentin began in 1996 run entirely by volunteers.
Through expansion and fundraising, that program founded the Prison University Project in 2003. Not only does the program grant associate’s degrees through Pattern University, but the Prison University Project also works to educate the public about the role and importance of education in prisoner and prison reform.
Women’s Prison Association
Founded in 1845, the Women’s Prison Association is the oldest women’s advocacy group in the United States. While its early years focused on prison conditions faced by women, as well as the issues that often landed women in prison — namely, alcohol abuse and problems attributed to poverty — today the WPA tackles a wide range of concerns, including:
- Residential drug treatment alternatives to incarceration
- Housing for homeless women with children
- HIV-positive women prisoners
- HIV education and advocacy
- And much more
The Lionheart Foundation
Established in 1992, the Lionheart Foundation works to provide “emotional literacy education programs to incarcerated adults, highly at-risk youth and teen parents in order to significantly alter their life course.” Committed to rehabilitation and advocacy, the organization provides high-quality rehabilitation resources and training for inmates and at-risk youth and the professionals who work with them.
They also aim to educate the public regarding the need to change the United States justice system into one where nurturing, emotional rehabilitation, positive values and improved behavior patterns are commonplace.
The ACLU National Prison Project
The American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project actively works to ensure that America’s places of detention are all in compliance with the U.S. Constitution, the principles of recognized international human rights and domestic law. Additionally, this organization seeks to bring the policies that have seen the nation’s incarceration rate rise to the highest in the world to a close, and it seeks to help prepare prisoners for release as well.
Through lobbying efforts, education, legal challenges and more, the ACLU National Prison Project is working to lower incarceration rates and improve prison conditions.
While some people currently serving time in the United States justice system are a threat to those around them, the vast majority of over 3 million people are incarcerated for non-violent crimes that were probably a result of untreated substance abuse, mental illness or both. While the path to a better justice system looks like a long one, these charities and others like them are working hard to bring compassion, rehabilitation, help, education and change to America’s still-burgeoning prison population.