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Each year, the U.S. incarcerates and releases millions of people from jail and prison. For many people who have been convicted of a crime and served a sentence, getting back on their feet is a challenge. Finding a job, place to live, and purpose may all have obstacles. The irony is that, without these things, chances of recidivism are higher.

There are a number of ways that volunteers can help people who are currently or formerly incarcerated. If you’re interested in helping people get back on their feet and make the most of their second chance, here are 3 things you can do.

Volunteer in a jail or prison

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has programs that are designed to help current inmates and released individuals through vocational training, mentoring, resume-writing, financial skill-building, and other areas. Your state Department of Corrections may also have similar programs for state-run facilities. The Inside Out program matches college students in traditional university settings with those who are learning while incarcerated.

Share a skill

PEN is a national writers’ organization that has created a handbook for incarcerated writers to help them improve their writing. The PEN Prison Writing Contest offers a mentorship program that pairs incarcerated writers with one of 250 writing teachers. Advocate James Foreman, Jr.’s website also lists a number of state programs for incarcerated individuals.

As you connect with organizations to help former inmates, you think about how you can use your own skills to help them. Running mock interviews, teaching them meditation and relaxation techniques, helping them connect with local services can all help the individual feel supportive.

Help them thrive

Volunteers of America provides correctional re-entry services to help formerly incarcerated individuals transition to a productive, community-based life. The program works with adult and youth offenders to help them find success once they’re out of prison or jail. Services include halfway houses, work-release programs, day reporting, diversion and pre-trial services, residential treatment, family supports, and dispute resolution and mediation services.

From Prison Cells to PhDs needs volunteers to do everything from being pen pals to mentoring to tutoring and more. The organization—which calls itself a “prison to professional” program—works to change the lives of people with criminal convictions through advocacy and support.

If you’re moved to help people who have a second change, this type of volunteering may be for you. Look for organizations that are a good match for the skills you have. You can also look for more opportunities at

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