Simulation shines spotlight on struggles associated with reentering society after incarceration

Around 20 individuals took part in the program designed to educate the public on recidivism rates in the state
Published: Apr. 20, 2023 at 7:09 PM AKDT
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WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - The Mat-Su Reentry Coalition — a partner of Alaska Reentry Partnership — held its third reentry simulation Tuesday at the Curtis D. Menard Sports Center in Wasilla. Around 20 individuals took part in the program designed to educate the public on the obstacles people face after incarceration and the rate of recidivism in the state.

“The simulation is to help community members be aware of what people getting out of prison might go through, especially in the first month to year of getting out,” said Barbara Mongar, the coalition’s coordinator.

Mongar has been with the advocacy group for four years after experiencing her own family member going through the juvenile system. She said he had the right support network to get straight after he was released, but many people don’t have the same experience.

According to a 2022 Recidivism Reduction Joint Annual Report put out by the Alaska Department of Health in conjunction with the Alaska Department of Corrections, 58% of offenders returned to prison within three years of release as of 2019 — down from 67% in 2013.

The simulation is designed to shed light on why recidivism is so high in the state, by providing participants with an accurate experience navigating reentrance into society upon release. Each person receives a folder at the start of the exercise that gives them an identity, a criminal background, as well as varying amounts of cash and transportation tickets to use at over a dozen stations.

Once it begins, the participants have four “weeks” — 15-minute intervals — to meet the requirements of their parole while also juggling the basic needs of surviving. This includes obtaining a state ID, finding employment and procuring housing — all while dealing with unexpected situations such as medical care and probationary slip-ups.

JJ Harrier participated on behalf of his employer, Alaska Addiction Rehabilitation Services. His character was named Sean who recently served a three-year sentence for burglary. He walked out of incarceration with $20.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” Harrier said. “Just the hoops that people who are trying to, you know, get back out into the community have to go through to get their life back on track. It’s pretty astounding.”

Many of the participants work directly or indirectly with individuals going through the same system.

If they failed to meet a certain level of criteria, the “probation officer” would send them back to “jail” where they would receive a 5-minute delayed start for the next week or have to pay the “judge” a fine.

The probation officer was played by Brian Galloway, a reentry case coordinator, who said many of the participants had no idea how hard reentering actually is.

“A lot of individuals say, ‘We didn’t realize this is what they go through,’” Galloway said. “It is pretty similar, no matter where you go, when reentry is concerned. Whether that’s a lack of transportation, or treatment or services.”