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The 10 Best and Worst States for Recently Released Inmates

Considering that more than two-thirds of state prisoners are rearrested within three years of release, many US states have created reentry programs designed to help former inmates get back on their feet. The PrisonEd team wanted to see which states make it easiest for released inmates to reintegrate into society.

Let’s dig in. Here are the most and least friendly states for recently released inmates.

Correlations and key research points

  • California scores highest on friendliness to former inmates. The Golden State has a background check law without a salary cap.

  • Alaska, which ranked the lowest, has three reentry programs, which is a relatively small amount. The Land of the Midnight Sun also doesn’t have a law about background check positions.

  • Virginia, which ranked 13th, had the lowest re-incarceration rate in the US in 2013, as 2,588 of the 11,576 inmates released that year were re-incarcerated within three years.

  • Alabama, which ranked fourth overall, had 19 reentry programs—the most of any state. California, which ranked first overall, had the second-most reentry programs at 13.

  • The percent of adult citizens who are current or ex-prisoners ranges from 2.5% in West Virginia (the lowest) to 13.5% in Florida (the highest).

  • The percentages of recidivism for inmates within three years of release vary from 22.4% in Virginia to 66.4% in Alaska.


The PrisonEd team looked at four different data points to determine which states are the friendliest to ex-inmates. We standardized and weighted four metrics before we added them together for each state’s final score:

  • The number of reentry programs: Programs include, but are not limited to, halfway houses, job help, and addiction recovery programs.

  • The number of current and ex-inmates: The data represents the percentage of current and ex-inmates based on a 2017 report over 60 years by Shannon et al. States that offered a higher percentage of support communities for ex-inmates received a higher score.

  • Background check restrictions: Some states limit how many years back employers can pull a background check. A few of those states also put a salary cap on this limit, which means the background check restrictions only apply to jobs that pay less than the indicated cap. For example, Nevada has a background check restriction of seven years and no salary cap. So, regardless of the job, employers in Nevada cannot pull more than seven years in a criminal background check. States that had background check limits received a higher score.

  • Re-incarceration percentages: The data includes three-year re-incarceration rates for prisoners released in 2013. States with a lower re-incarceration percentage received a higher score.

​Five states (Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon, and Texas) weren’t considered in the ranking due to insufficient data reporting.

Get involved

Released inmates often have a difficult time readapting into the community. However, reentry programs have been shown to have a positive impact on ex-convicts’ ability to return to a full life once they are released from prison. To contribute to reentry programs, you can volunteer time or resources to help their bright future. If you are interested in learning more about PrisonEd’s prison education programs and how you can get involved, check out our volunteer program.


  1. Help For Felons, “The Most Felon Friendly States,” “Companies that Hire Felons List

  2., “Jobs For Felons

  3., “These US States Have the Best Prison Systems

  4. The Council of State Governments, “States Aim for Rehabilitation in Prison Reform

  5. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Data Concerning Those Incarcerated

  6., “The Changing State of Recidivism: Fewer People Going Back to Prison

  7., “California Offers College Courses

  8. Wharton. University of Pennsylvania Public Policy Initiative, “The Economic Impact of Prison Rehabilitation Programs


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