February 1, 2021 at 1:45 pm

Knutsen Op-Ed Highlights Stigma Faced by People Post-Incarceration

Lark Knutsen, portrait

Lark Knutsen

Ohio University Master of Law, Justice & Culture student Lark Knutsen recently authored an op-ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer titled “Free from prison, but not from your judgment” on the the post-incarceration experience.

As a part of her coursework in sociology capstone course as an undergraduate student with Dr. Nicole Kaufman, Knutsen focused on public perceptions of people who are imprisoned and those who were previously imprisoned. Her graduate research experience played a role in her publication, as she balances emotionally provoking language with sociological data.

“Under the incredible tutelage of Dr. Kaufman, I landed upon the topic of the stigmatization that formerly incarcerated individuals face upon re-entering society,” Knutsen said. “Based on conversations I’ve had with those who have contacted me since the piece’s publication, this indeed seems to be an overlooked subject, and, thus, one I’m happy to have helped bring to the light.”

Knutsen writes in the piece, “Imagine that the most shameful thing you’ve done – or, worse, the most shameful thing that others think you’ve done – was public knowledge.  Imagine the pain of reentering your community knowing that, during your time behind bars, your entire self was reduced to your lowest moment. You are, now and forever, your crime. I believe strongly in the power and importance of empathy in all circumstances, particularly empathy directed towards those whose life experience differs greatly for one’s own.”

Her empathetic viewpoint is substantiated by research that explains the negative impact of public perceptions on people who have been incarcerated on their reintegration. As the op-ed details, when a person believes that the outside world is defining them by their criminal experiences, it can cause that person to feel that they have no choice but to reoffend because they already hold that label.

“Regardless of the degree to which your perception of stigma aligns with reality, your sense of the target on your back, along with difficult post-release circumstances, will likely result in a downward spiral. The research suggests that expectations of criminality lead to criminal behavior. In other words, you are likely to see no other choice but to reoffend.

Knutson also uses this article as an opportunity to bring awareness to the plight of formerly incarcerated individuals that are attempting to reintegrate into society. She provides avenues for readers to contribute their time or resources to supporting that vulnerable community.

“If you’re interested in more concrete, proactive ways to help, consider checking out a ‘second chance’ local business that makes an open hiring policy part of its mission. In the Cincinnati area, businesses from Cintas to Nehemiah Manufacturing to the restaurant Season 52 employ the formerly incarcerated. If you’re in a position to hire people, you could consider adopting a similar model.”

Finally, she reminds those that read her piece that reshaping the way that formerly imprisoned individuals experience their communities takes everyone being committed to promoting a welcoming and non judgmental atmosphere. The first to this, as Knutsen points out, is acknowledging that a solution is possible when involvement is widespread.

“Like many of the largest problems facing society today, the stigmatization of formerly incarcerated individuals is without a single cause or a clear path forward. This makes realizing a solution difficult, but not impossible. The answer lies in a societal shift, and that means that every one of us must get involved,” she said.


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