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USF Hosts Discussion on the Effects on Incarceration on Offenders, Families & Communities

People from around the Tampa Bay community gathered to listen to experts discuss the nation's mass incarceration issue.

Experts from the University of South Florida and across the nation recently took part in a discussion hosted by USF’s College of Behavioral & Community Sciences, on the effects of high levels of incarceration on offenders, their families and communities, at the University Area Community Development Corporation.

People from the Tampa Bay area gather to hear experts discuss the nation's mass incarceration issue.

With numbers of incarcerations on the rise, the panel presented their thoughts and ideas on practices to reform the correctional systems, how to create new opportunities for offenders returning to the community, and reducing barriers to employment and stable housing.     

Experts like Mark Mauer, director of the sentencing project in Washington D.C., believe the collateral consequences that follow these former inmates hinder their ability to successfully re-enter society.

Mark Mauer, director of "The Sentencing Project"

“A whole set of additional policies affect people going through the system long after they’ve completed their sentence, often for the rest of their lives, that inhibit their ability to get good employment, access to public benefits, the right to vote, a whole host of things that expand the idea of punishment,” Mauer said.  The toll of mental health and substance use problems on the incarcerated and their families was also discussed.

According to The Sentencing Project, in 2014 Florida’s prison population was 102,870, which was nearly 20,000 more than in 2004, and 45,000 more than in 1994. Also, Florida had the largest number of disenfranchised felons in the entire country with 1,686,318; more than 10 percent of the population. The state also has the third highest amount of children who have experienced the incarceration of a parent.

Mary Armstrong, executive director of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute at USF, said the numbers are alarming, and finding solutions to community issues like this one is what USF is all about.

“Part of our mission is community engagement, working with real people around real issues that our community is facing,” Armstrong said. “We are only a piece of the solution, but we need to be at the table helping folks figure this out.”

Chris Simmons, USF faculty member and expert on prison reform

Speakers included Mauer as well as Jamie Fader, a national expert on youth re-entry post-incarceration; Chris Simmons, a USF faculty member and expert on prison reform; and Carla Stover, a USF professor and developer of the evidenced-based practice “Fathers for Change.”

Story and photos by Ryan Noone, University Communications & Marketing

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