Returning Citizens: No longer bound but now financially restrained
While incarcerated, many incur large debts due to court fees, fines, public defender fees, and the like. Adding to this burden are previous debt obligations, incurred prior to incarceration. However, making timely payments on debt commitments while incarcerated may be challenging (or near impossible)—due to a lack of income and lack of family members or friends who are willing and able to assist in keeping the debt current. Consequently, most of these debts accumulate late payment fees and eventually end up in default and sent to collections. Upon release, many financial institutions will not lend to returning citizens, or those who are justice exposed, because of their poor credit history and resultant low credit score or lack of a credit score at all.
Further complicating the situation is the fact that many returning citizens have been victims of identity theft while incarcerated. Credit cards and cell phone accounts in their name may have been stolen and used fraudulently by other people. Once released, the returning citizens then have identity theft issues to deal with. In cases of ID theft where the perpetrator is known, which is the case for the majority of identity theft cases, a police report is often required to address the problem. However, many returning citizens are reluctant to report to the authorities on someone that they know.
An exorbitant number of Americans are potentially affected by this reality, including:
Between 70 to 100 million Americans who have a criminal record, which equals roughly 1 in 3 Americans
Over 650,000 offenders who are released every year
A disproportionate number of minorities who are in prison: 1 in 17 are white, 1 in 3 are black and 1 in 5 are Latino