Even with the Reentry Services Commission’s recommendations in place, adapting to life on the outside of prison can force ex-convicts to navigate a punishing gauntlet. To give key stakeholders an idea of what it’s like to be a former inmate reentering society, the New Jersey State Parole Board held a simulation at Monmouth University.
Participants, including people from state, county and federal agencies, social service providers and advocacy groups, took on the roles of those newly released. Deborah Darbee, with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, played the role of Wilson, who served 10 years in federal prison for bank robbery and has a history of drug use.
If the participants don’t fulfill their obligations, as in real life, they are considered in violation of probation and sent back to jail.
“Two-thirds of the people that are released are rearrested within three years and that typically happens in the simulation,” said Kimberlynn Reeves, public information officer at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware.
As for Darbee, her character of Wilson faced an unfortunate, but not uncommon, outcome.
“My employer wouldn’t pay me and then he stole my ID,” she said. “Obviously, I’m in jail so I was not as credible as the employer, so they’d believe the employer, but that’s not necessarily the truth.”
These barriers are eye opening for Darbee because her field staff deal daily with people who were recently released from prison.
The chairman of the State Parole Board credits exercises like this one for highlighting challenges in the system they continuously work to solve.