speaking truth on coming home
Fulfilling health and safety needs in Richmond relies on the community creating an effective system for receiving and reintegrating residents returning from incarceration. We envision a Richmond where community members involved in the criminal justice system have strong relationships with their family and community have real opportunities for sustainable employment and a stable place to live, and have access to the information and services that ensure they have the necessities for building successful lives.
We understand that breaking the cycle of incarceration and crime will take positive leadership by formerly incarcerated residents contributing to the greater community. We are taking action to dispel the myths that people who have been incarcerated cannot transform their lives and be a positive force in the community.
invest in people not prisons
Mass incarceration presents one of the great threats to the future of American democracy and shared prosperity. At the same time, this crisis presents a tremendous opportunity to build strategic alliances that can help to transform our region, state and country. Today, more than half of California's counties are investing funding they received from the state to build or expand their local jails. Contra Costa County is the first county in the state of California to defeat a proposed jail expansion and has invested in an ambi*ous strategy to build pathways to self-sufficiency and lifelong liberty that shuts the revolving door to prison. We believe that there are a set of learnings from the organizing and movement-building experience in Contra Costa County that can help to inform a powerful movement to dismantle mass incarceration and expand freedom and opportunity to the most marginalized communities in California. It is cri*cal to understand that the current conditions are not natural, rational, inevitable or sustainable. They can only be resolved by a sustained confrontation and dialogue about our values and commitment to live in a multiracial and equitable democracy. This is not a technical challenge about planning and policy, but rather a more fundamental confrontation with the essential questions of racial equity, control, and power in California.
community reintegration and employment
For both practical and psychological reasons, gainful and steady employment after incarceration is a critical pathway toward community reintegration. Most immediately, a job provides formerly incarcerated people with much needed money. Without a source of income, they must rely on others for shelter, food, and other basic needs; those without family or friends to rely on may not have these needs met at all. Under dire economic circumstances, individuals have a very real incentive to turn to the illegal activities that may have landed them in prison or jail in the first place. But a job presents formerly incarcerated persons with more than just financial means. On a symbolic level, finding and holding a job sends a strong signal to one’s family and community that you are working toward a productive life outside of prison. Steady employment may also present meaningful responsibilities, a set daily structure, and a new network of peers, which can all ease the difficulties of adjusting to life after incarceration. Beyond meeting the need for money, steady and gainful employment offers new roles, new routines, and new social supports.
Not having employment following incarceration can have devastating impacts on health and well-being and on the likelihood of a successful transition. Prolonged periods of unemployment contribute to anxiety, depression, and stress-related illnesses. Studies have also shown that coping with unemployment leads to higher rates of unhealthy behaviors, such as problematic alcohol and tobacco consumption, poor diet, and lack of exercise. Just as important as securing employment are the wages, benefits, and work conditions that accompany it. Low-wage workers frequently work in unsafe and unhealthy conditions and experience higher rates of workplace injury. They also receive little-to-no health benefits, meaning that doctor appointments and medical procedures must be paid from an already low income. Employment obtained after incarceration must therefore be both steady and support a healthy standard of living.
housing and community reintegration
Finding a secure place to sleep is often the foremost concern the first night out of a correctional institution. Lack of a stable home and address is not only a housing issue, but also creates obstacles to obtaining a job, developing positive relationships, and avoiding re-incarceration. Research has found that housing is a "platform" for successful reintegration after incarceration. In the immediate term, the most available housing arrangement might be with a friend or family member—indeed, surveys of individuals a few months out of prison found that most stay with relatives or acquaintances in the period immediately after release. In the long term, the most suitable housing arrangement will depend on the circumstances of the individual. Formerly incarcerated persons who have healthy family relationships would greatly benefit from being able to stay with parents, siblings, partners, or children. Those struggling with substance abuse may be best supported by a well-run residential treatment program. Renting or leasing housing on the public or private market may be the best option for individuals with greater self-sufficiency. Whatever the arrangement, procuring housing is integral to the reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals in their communities.
home with a purpose
ONE THURSDAY MORNING in 2012, a nondescript county hearing room in Martinez, California was unexpectedly filled with over 100 residents holding signs that read Invest in People, Not Prisons. This group of formerly incarcerated people, faith leaders, and other community members were responding to the county sheriff ’s plan to expand the county jail. Jeff Rutland, who had been incarcerated for seven years, offered testimony on what it was like to come home with nothing more than a paper bag and $120, and the many barriers and stigmas he faced. Rutland was part of the Safe Return Project team, a group of eight formerly incarcerated residents that had spearheaded months of organizing, research, and advocacy leading up to the contentious hearing. As a result of their efforts, the sheriff announced he would withdraw the proposed jail expansion, marking a historic shift. County officials decided to dedicate the $5.2 million toward transitional employment, bail reform, housing, and community services. How did this group of formerly incarcerated people develop the power and capacity to lead an effort that made Contra Costa County the only county in California to reject a proposed jail expansion? This report answers that and other questions by analyzing the formation, development and impact of the Safe Return Project.