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February 22, 2021

Lesson Plan: How community programs can help pave the road from prison

This lesson is part of our Searching for Justice series on criminal justice reform.

For a Google doc version of this lesson, click here. (You will need to make a copy of the document to edit it.)

Overview: Many factors make life after release from prison very difficult, including lack of access to housing, employment and education. One part of the criminal justice system that adds to the challenges of post-release life is obtaining valid ID, which is critical in finding housing, accessing benefits or obtaining a job. Many returning citizens (those released from prison), struggle for months to obtain the documents needed to establish a life.

In this lesson, students will discuss the difficulties of returning to life after prison and the impact of communities caused by these roadblocks.

Subjects: U.S. History, U.S. Government & Civics, Criminal Justice, Legal Studies

Estimated time: One or two 50-minute class periods

Grade level: 7th-12th grade

Objectives:

  • Students will examine the challenges faced by those individuals formerly convicted of felonies in reintegrating into their communities, including the complications imposed by obtaining an ID. 
  • Students will discuss the impact of obtaining an ID and other requirements in reestablishing life after release from jail or prison. 
  • Students will explore ways their communities can better integrate returning citizens who have served time for felonies and then invent their own solutions.

Activities

Warm-up activity: Think, write, and share with a partner (virtual option — create a Google doc or online discussion — write answers and respond to at least one other participant’s answer).

Discuss: What are some reasons that those released from prison or jail sometimes return to prison or jail? What is the impact on those individuals, families and the community when those released from prison don’t have access to resources to restart their lives?

Main activity:

Watch the video and answer the questions below. 

  1. First, have students answer the following questions, either in class discussion or as written answers.
    • Who is Kenneth Taylor, and what challenge did he face after release from prison?
    • What are some of the obstacles returning citizens face if they are unable to produce enough forms of identification?
    • What are some of the consequences for returning citizens who can’t quickly obtain identification?
    • What are some ways the pandemic (or other crises such as natural disasters) can make returning to communities even more difficult for returning citizens?
  2. Read this short post by the non-profit Fortune Society, which helps reintegrate returning citizens.
    • Discuss: What were two or three suggestions in this post for making return to a community less complicated?
  3. Go online and see if you can figure out how people without identification of any kind could obtain it in your own city and state.
    • Discuss: Who might have trouble completing these steps, and why? Consider, for instance, the elderly or people who have never used a computer because of long-term incarceration.
  4. Brainstorm a way to make returning to society easier for returning citizens through easier access to forms of ID. Use the Lemelson-MIT invention process to build out and test your plan. You might consider new technology such as a kiosk for ID applications, an information campaign or an advocacy campaign (such as letters to local authorities). The invention process includes the following steps:
    • Concept phase: Identify a problem, conduct research and brainstorm solutions. What might be a problem in obtaining IDs for some returning citizens you identified in your community, based on the research you did into the process?
    • Design phase: Create a plan, calculate costs, select the best solution and determine necessary resources.
    • Build phase: Sketch, model or build a prototype. This could be a prototype of technology or organization that helps people get the documentation needed to obtain housing, work or other benefits (or reduce the impact on those who do not yet have access to these things).
    • Review and redesign phase: Review the invention for strengths and weaknesses. Present prototypes (plans) to the class and discuss ways to make each proposal stronger.

Extension activities:

This lesson uses a video segment from PBS NewsHour’s “Searching for Justice” series. Searching for Justice explores criminal justice reforms unfolding across the country, as the leaders from both sides of the political aisle attempt to end mass incarceration by rethinking laws that some say have become barriers to work, housing, and economic stability. Click here for more stories in the series and watch for more NewsHour EXTRA lesson content based on Searching for Justice stories.

  • If you would like to extend this lesson, click here for a lesson on “collateral consequences” and felony disenfranchisement — the ways those convicted of crimes face limitations to their rights as punishment beyond prison.
  • You can also use this lesson to discuss other obstacles facing those who have been released from prison.
  • You can click here for a lesson on felony disenfranchisement.

 

by Luke Gerwe, curriculum writer and asst. editor at PBS NewsHour EXTRA


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  • Standards

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    Relevant National Standards:
      Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9: Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
    • C3 Standards
    • D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.
    • D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.

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