As Casey Anthony tries to build a new life after being acquitted in her daughter’s killing, she faces many of the same challenges as other former inmates, according to prisoner support groups.
But those challenges are amplified by her notoriety and the fact that so many people seemed to disagree with the verdict, they say.
"Being incarcerated is a traumatic event no matter who you are and no matter how long you stay in," said JoAnne Page, president and chief executive officer of The Fortune Society, a nonprofit social service and advocacy group in New York that works with former prisoners. "I think especially when somebody’s high-profile and when it’s a hard case for people to stomach, it’s much harder."
To ease the transition into life outside prison, advocates say, Anthony will likely need to move, find a supportive friend and avoid the media frenzy surrounding her case.
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Anthony's acquittal on July 5 shocked and enraged many around the country who had been following the case since her 2-year-old daughter Caylee disappeared in 2008. Anger has spilled onto social media sites and elsewhere, with the big question now being, "Where is Anthony?" since she was released early Sunday from an Orlando, Fla., jail. Her legal team said on Friday it had received an emailed death threat with a manipulated photo showing the 25-year-old with a bullet hole in her forehead.
Although a judge sentenced Anthony on July 7 to four years for lying to investigators, she was released only 10 days later after getting credit for nearly three years of time served and good behavior.Story: Was Casey Anthony prosecuted with inaccurate data?
While Anthony will face unique challenges because of the publicity surrounding her case, the struggles faced by those trying to reintegrate into society are not uncommon.
About 730,000 people are released from state and federal prisons across the country every year, while another seven million cycle through jails annually, Page said.
“No matter what the crime was, what you want is for them to enter society as people who can be constructive in the community," she said. "If that doesn’t happen, everybody gets hurt.”
People coming out of incarceration typically need help finding housing and a job, plus mental health or substance abuse treatment, among other support. Anthony may need that kind of help and more.
Anthony still faces a slew of potentially expensive legal problems, including being sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars by a Texas group that searched for Caylee in the weeks after she was reported missing.
Florida prosecutors also are seeking to recoup the cost of their investigation into Caylee's disappearance. In addition, she faces a defamation suit by a woman named Zenaida Gonzalez who claims she has been harassed and unable to find work after Anthony alleged Caylee was kidnapped by a baby sitter with Gonzalez's name.
“At the end of the day, she will really need to establish her own new normal,” said Georgia Lerner, executive director of the New York-based nonprofit Women’s Prison Association.
Her new life would have to be one that allows her to accept herself and the path that she has so far taken. But she will probably be “thrown off course” for a few years since people are so interested in her, and she could potentially “crash and burn,” Lerner said.Story: Casey Anthony lies low on first day of freedom
“She could probably delay setting up a normal life for quite a while. She could decide to be on talk shows,” Lerner said. “She could probably have the life of a celebrity and support herself that way for some period of time, which would likely keep her in the spotlight, (and) probably end up creating more problems for her.”
Since Anthony will likely get work because of the trial — such as a reality show or a book deal — it makes her release an atypical one, said Elizabeth Farid of the National H.I.R.E. Network, which does legislative advocacy to eliminate housing, work and education obstacles for people who have criminal records.
“She will face barriers, that’s true, but my guess is that she’s not going to be applying for a job at … the local business where they would do a background check,” she said.
Many women want to reconnect with their families after getting out, but Anthony's relationship with her parents is strained. During the case, the defense accused her father, George, of molesting her as a child and helping to cover up Caylee's death. He denied both charges, which were never substantiated.
After her acquittal, Anthony refused a jailhouse visit from her mother, Cindy; and she reportedly hasn't been in touch with her parents since her release.
“She’s such a public figure but really quite isolated,” Lerner said.
Anthony may also need to move in order to start anew, said Page, who noted that large cities have “shorter memories” than smaller communities.Story: Casey Anthony freed, heads for mystery destination
“It’s going to be extraordinarily hard for her to come back and I’m saying that because her face has been on television, everybody knows what she looks like," Page said. "There is no charge that is more horrific than the charge of murdering a child. And the fact that she was acquitted of that isn’t what is in forefront of many people’s memories, most people remember the charge.”
She added that Anthony will not only be at risk of being unable to find a job or a place to live, but "she may well be at serious physical risk."
Anthony does have security and “elaborate plans had to be made to keep the people away from her,” defense attorney Cheney Mason told NBC's Today show on Monday. He said she was still grieving the death of her daughter and the psychological toll of her jail time.
“It will take a while for her to adjust,” he said.
Page said her organization has had to create protective circles for clients in high-profile cases, while Farid said some former prisoners still were imprisoned by society’s judgment after their release — the “sentences after the sentence.”
“There still is this sense of not really being entirely free,” Lerner said. “There is a way that we feel kind of free just to keep re-convicting and re-judging people over and over again.”
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