Eileen Rivers, USA TODAY We started with a seemingly simple question: Why do so many inmates in the United States end up returning to prison after they are released?
We expected to find stories of inmate violence and of former felons who encountered discrimination as they struggled to find work. What we didn't expect to find was pervasive corruption and systems too overwhelmed to offer desperately needed services that give ex-convicts a fighting chance to succeed in the outside world.
We learned of inmates who worked with prison guards to deal drugs. We heard about others who used drugs for the first time while incarcerated... We found inmates who used their time not to gain a trade but to learn how to more craftily commit crimes upon release.
Most Americans have heard the statistics that point to how alarmingly high our incarceration rates are. The most familiar:
The U.S. has 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners. America has the highest per-capita rate of incarceration in the developed world, one that outpaces Cuba and China combined.
But many Americans are unfamiliar that more than 75% of prisoners return to the system within five years of release in America.