After Prison: A Second Chance, a New Job, Better Health
Third installment of the “Self-Sufficiency Series: Solutions from the Field”
This series profiles local programs from across the country that are implementing “Principles of Economic Mobility” contained in President Trump’s Executive Order on Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility.
During Second Chance Month, we recognize individuals, like Jerry Smart, who have successfully reentered society and gained employment after incarceration with the help of dedicated community organizations.
Jerry, a formerly incarcerated, single father now works at the Transitions Clinic Program in New Haven, Connecticut, as a senior community health worker. In this role, Jerry coordinates medical care and social service supports for chronically ill patients recently released from prison.
Employment is crucial to the success of those reentering society after incarceration, but there are often significant barriers to finding and maintaining employment once an individual has a criminal record. The challenges individuals like Jerry face have been highlighted in President Trump’s Executive Order on reducing poverty in America.
These challenges are especially prevalent in fields such as healthcare, where there can be a web of background check requirements associated with healthcare training, occupational licensing and employment.
The Transitions Clinic Network (TCN) is a national network of clinics for previously incarcerated individuals with chronic conditions that employs community health workers who themselves have a history of incarceration as key members of their clinical teams. TCN provides a second chance for Jerry and others returning to their communities to use their life experiences to promote the health of others and their own economic independence. This meaningful employment can play a key role in successful reentry and benefit communities as a whole.
A community health worker is a trusted member of the community who links others to health and social services through culturally relevant outreach and education. TCN staff report that people who used to be in prison may not feel comfortable engaging with or navigating the complex healthcare system. However, connecting with healthcare can be crucial for this population. For example, for individuals who have had a substance use disorder, overdose rates are highest during the first few weeks of reentry.
By incorporating community health workers with a history of incarceration into the primary care team, TCN clinics are able to provide culturally competent care, establish trust, and improve the health and reentry outcomes among their patients, many of whom have complex health and social needs that, if unaddressed, could lead to recidivism. In addition to assisting with patients’ medical needs, TCN community health workers provide mentorship, patient advocacy, and comprehensive reentry support to individuals returning home from incarceration.
“As a society, we tend to put healthcare on the back burner, but most of these guys never had a primary care physician,” Jerry said. “If you get an illness that prevents you from working, how are you supposed to survive? Relapse is just around the corner.”
The TCN Program has received federal funding from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation. This model has been adopted by clinics in 10 states and Puerto Rico. In collaboration with the City College of San Francisco, TCN also developed a specialized online training program to instruct TCN community health workers on best practices in working with formerly incarcerated patients and as part of a clinical team.
Becoming a community health worker has allowed Jerry, and many others like him, to obtain concrete skills that have helped facilitate successful reentry through a rewarding career giving back to their community. These days, Jerry also helps facilitate the TCN online training, where he is able to provide mentorship and support to TCN’s growing number of community health workers.
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