Gratitude

Today we feel so much gratitude. Gratitude, of course, for our families and friends, as we do each and every year on this day. This year is special, though, because it marks our first Thanksgiving since our launch less than 2 months ago (feels like much longer!). So, on our first Thanksgiving as Root & Rebound, we take this moment to reflect on the immense gratitude we feel to the community of formerly incarcerated advocates, reentry practitioners, academics, human rights activists, educators, and changemakers who have opened their doors to us in the last two months, and given us their time, energy and expertise—just because they believe in us and our work.

This has been the most overwhelmingly wonderful part of our work—seeing that people who, on paper, seem too successful, too busy, or too important to take the time to talk to the two of us, actually, after so many years, have so much passion for their work, for making the world a better place, that they never tire of encouraging others who are just entering this field, and giving them hope that they, too, can make a difference.

There have been many times in our lives, as I know is true for all of us, when we have come across people who refuse to help, who turn their backs when they are asked to do for others. These experiences can make us jaded and tired, can cause us to shut down and close off to the world (an experience we both had in law school). But the last two months have shown us that these people and these experiences are few and far between, and that there are so many wonderful people who light up with enthusiasm at the opportunity to get involved with yet another project.

These incredible people have made our program stronger, and by reaching back after walking through the doors of success, have enhanced our ability to do that for others. So thank you, thank you to everyone who has taken time out of their demanding jobs and busy schedules to lend us their advice and expertise.

We would especially like to thank our incredible founding Board of Directors and Advisory Board, people who have committed to continuing to be a part of our work. We could not do it without them, and we have great hope for the future of our organization because of them.

Our Board of Directors is currently made up of these wonderful folks:

Our Advisory Board is currently made up of these wonderful folks:

We are so incredibly grateful for your commitment and service.

Happy Holidays!

—The R & R Team

Wanted: A Sea Change in Sentencing Laws

A recent criminal case in Virginia has received a lot of press—as it should—because of the harsh sentencing of a 15-year-old boy, Travion Blount, who received six life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole for participating in an armed robbery. Travion’s sentence to six life sentences (118 years) without the possibility of parole is a death sentence behind bars. His only chance of leaving prison is through geriatric release at age 60, an unlikely possibility. No one would argue that this wasn’t a serious crime. No one would argue that a 15-year-old that points a gun at teenagers at a party shouldn’t be punished. But what happens next is up to us.

Sentencing laws are written by people… most of whom have law degrees. Those laws can be encouraged or discouraged by the general public. Here is one opportunity among many to sound off. Should Travion—a 15-year-old boy who committed a serious crime die behind bars?

Slowly but surely, our society is realizing that these extreme sentences do not reduce crime; instead they create mass incarceration of people of color in our country, lead to serious overcrowding in prison and jail, and waste precious lives and millions in resources on keeping people locked up. We have a long way to go in terms of creating a sea change around this issue, and making sure that people everywhere in this country are free from extremely harsh sentences. While some states have changed their harsh sentencing laws, people in this country suffer from “geographical justice,” meaning that where you do the crime defines your time.

Virginia is one of 11 states that still imposes life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles with non-homicide convictions. So two 15-year-olds with the same profile, the same crime, and the same circumstances will be treated and sentenced completely differently by the courts, depending on whether they live in California or Virginia. Is that justice?

At Root & Rebound, we believe in second chances, and we believe that every person should be treated as an individual, with the courts, the board of parole hearings, and other criminal justice bodies looking at their specific life circumstances and character. We take issue with living in a society where anyone is left to die behind bars, no matter their age or conviction. We believe that every life should be valued, and that the solution is not to lock the door, turn our backs, and throw away the key. The solution is to look in the mirror to examine what we, as a society, are doing wrong, and how we are failing our young people, our communities of color, and our citizens with disabilities and mental illness. To realize that we, as a Nation, have a public health epidemic—of violence. To take responsibility for some piece of every crime.

In talking and working with formerly incarcerated people, we spend a significant amount of time with individuals who have committed all types of crimes. Some that sound and are much more serious than Travion’s. We also see these same individuals, when given the chance, become active members in their communities, whether those communities are in jail or prison, or in their neighborhoods when they return to outside life.

Many of our formerly incarcerated colleagues (just a small number of whom we have featured on the blog here and here) take on more unpaid work in a year than most of us could ever imagine. They volunteer their time to support others reentering; they speak to community groups, universities, policymakers, and on various panels hoping to spread messages of hope and change the image of “who is a criminal.” They understand the problem of draconian sentencing laws and mass incarceration in our country from the inside out. They see other options for dealing with social problems. They collaborate with service providers like ours to get as much legal and social support to people leaving prison as possible. They help others give back just as they have. Not only are these individuals totally safe to live free and outside of prison, they are real assets to society, using their own experiences to make our world a much better and more compassionate place in which to live. And part of the reason why we started this blog was to highlight these incredible community members, and let their work and their lives tell the stories of redemption and second chances, and to change the minds and open the hearts of people who come across our blog.

The ACLU has published a report on people with life sentences without the possibility of parole—all who committed nonviolent offenses. The report shares a range of stories—a woman who carried drugs for her abusive boyfriend, a man who stole tools from a tool shed. All of these people were sentenced to die behind bars. To read more about Travion Blount and the devastating outcome in his case, visit the ACLU’s report here.

We hope after reading about Travion’s story and life without the possibility of parole, our readers will reflect on the ways we can change these laws and support the individuals and families affected by them. We welcome comments below. Please share your thoughts and join the dialogue.

—The R & R Team

Employment Law, Title VII, and Advocating for People with Criminal Records

President Lyndon B. Johnson at the signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, of which Title VII is a subchapter. People watching include then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Senator Hubert Humphrey, First Lady "Lady Bird" Johnson, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, & Speaker of the House John McCormack. Television cameras are broadcasting the ceremony. Source: LBJ Presidential Library.

President Lyndon B. Johnson at the signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, of which Title VII is a subchapter. People watching include then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Senator Hubert Humphrey, First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, & Speaker of the House John McCormack. Television cameras are broadcasting the ceremony. Source: LBJ Presidential Library

Earlier this month, Maurice Emsellem, Policy Co-Director for the National Employment Law Project (NELP), sat down with Root & Rebound at his downtown Oakland office to talk about the employment issues that arise for people coming out of prison and jail.

At NELP, Maurice specializes in employment law as it affects people with criminal records. Maurice has worked on collaborations with organizers and advocates that have successfully modernized state unemployment insurance programs, created employment protections for workfare workers, and reduced unfair barriers to employment of people with criminal records in state laws and in city hiring practices. He has testified before Congress and numerous state legislatures, promoting innovative policy reforms.

We were lucky to sit down with Maurice and learn about some key areas in employment law that affect people with criminal records. In this blog post, we wanted to share information with you about how one major federal civil rights law—Title VII—can be used to help people with criminal records who are discriminated against in the employment sphere because of their record.

TITLE VII

  1. First, some basic info: Title VII is a federal civil rights law that says it is illegal for employers with 15 or more employees (20 employees for age-discrimination cases) to discriminate against any individual in recruiting, hiring and promotion decisions, transfers, work assignments, performance measurements, the work environment, job training, discipline and firing, wages and benefits, or any other condition or privilege of employment.
  2. Second important thing to know: Title VII only protects people from discrimination that is based on their membership in what the Supreme Court has defined as a “protected class.” Race, ethnicity, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), and disability are all protected classes under Title VII. Thus, an employer cannot discriminate on these specific bases; but Title VII does not cover groups outside of legally recognized protected classes.
  3. Third, Title VII not only prohibits intentional discrimination against protected classes, but also prohibits employers from having job practices and policies that cause a disparate impact on the basis of membership in a protected class, such as race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This law is helpful for advocates because, in many cases, it is very hard to prove that an employer intentionally discriminated against a person because of his/ her membership in a protected class; on the other hand, it is easier (though not easy!) to show that, despite an employer’s intention, the workplace policy has a “disparate impact”—that is, it disproportionately harms—a protected class. If a plaintiff shows that a practice has a disparate impact on the basis of sex, race, national origin, or other protected classes, the employer must then show that the job practice is job-related for the position in question and consistent with the needs of the business for the practice to be deemed lawful by a court.

Administrative Guidance on Title VII

  1. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title VIIThe U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing Title VII and federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee. The EEOC issues compliance guidelines to help employers, courts, and advocates understand and implement Title VII. Importantly for whistleblowers, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate—to discriminate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
  2. The EEOC has issued enforcement guidance stating that an “employer’s use of an individual’s criminal history in making employment decisions may, in some instances, violate the prohibition against employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” You can find the EEOC guidance rules online here: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/arrest_conviction.cfm.
  3. In California, the Employment Development Department (EDD) has also issued Directives related to state and federal employment discrimination laws, including Directives issued to employers who receive federal financial assistance to help them comply with Title VII and their nondiscrimination obligations when serving individuals with criminal records. You can find the EDD’s Directives online here: http://www.edd.ca.gov/jobs_and_training/pubs/wsd12-9.pdf.

So why is Title VII relevant to our work and important for people with criminal records?

Here’s why: In a society that has a racially discriminatory criminal justice system, an overwhelming number of formerly incarcerated people are African American, Latino, and other people of color. So  Title VII’s protections for people on the basis of race, color, and national origin also protect people of color coming out of prison and jail and reentering the job market. Title VII is rich with potential for protecting people with criminal records as they attempt to get work, maintain a stable job, or report discrimination on the basis of their membership in a protected class.

The EEOC has encouraged employers to develop individualized assessments of people with arrest or conviction records in the hiring process, so that they do not violate Title VII. The EEOC guidelines state that, to abide by Title VII, an employer must, at the very least, consider the following four factors in the hiring process: (1) the nature of the applicant’s crime, (2) the time elapsed since the crime, (3) the nature of the job, as well as (4) rehabilitative factors that show a person is ready for work.

Employment laws can and should be leveraged to make reentry as successful as possible, and to fight discrimination against people who have served their time and want to be productive members of our workforce. We hope to see the protections of Title VII enforced and expanded on behalf of people exiting prison and jail—people who are attempting to provide for themselves and their families and enjoy the dignity of a stable job free of discrimination.

Thank you, Maurice, for your expertise and time!

Onward!

–The R & R Team

Meet the Center for Community Alternatives & Deputy Director Josefina Bastidas

Above, a CCA participant and her daughter

Above, a CCA participant and her daughter.

Root & Rebound had an incredible meeting in NYC a couple of weeks back with Josefina Bastidas, Esq., Deputy Director for the New York City offices at the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) in downtown Brooklyn. Immediately upon walking through their office doors, we felt and were treated like CCA family. During our visit, Josefina introduced us to some of CCA’s social work clinicians, attorneys, program and service directors, administrative support staff, and mentors. Every person greeted us with kindness and support. CCA’s positive work culture and community impact radiated from every person we met.

CCA promotes reintegrative justice and a reduced reliance on incarceration through advocacy, direct services, and public policy development in pursuit of civil and human rights. CCA works with people who would otherwise be incarcerated—men, women, and youth—and provides an alternative to incarceration. In an average year, CCA successfully diverts 400 people from more costly incarceration and provides reentry services to roughly 500 individuals; in doing so, CCA’s programs reduce the collateral consequences of incarceration, strengthen families, and build safer communities.

The way it works is that courts actually sentence people to CCA programs instead of prison or jail time.  CCA provides these clients with client-specific planning, addiction recovery and treatment, family reunification, educational planning support, workforce readiness, social support, and policy advocacy. Another benefit of diversion programs at CCA is that, for every person mandated to CCA instead of incarceration, New York State taxpayers save at least the $32,000 in annual state prison costs. Even more savings accrue through reducing time in local jails or juvenile justice placements, which cost more than twice the amount of state prison.

Josefina—who provides the leadership and oversight for all services provided out of CCA’s New York City office—has an amazing professional history. She received her law degree from Santa Maria University and was a District Judge in her birth country, Venezuela. But after coming to the United States, she was relegated professionally to the bottom of the legal professional totem pole. From Josefina’s drive to rebuild her legal career in the U.S., she received her Master of Laws Degree from Georgetown University Law Center. Josefina not only rebuilt her professional life in the United States, but has also made it her life’s work to help people whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system and mentor young people who care about social justice and criminal justice reform. She is nothing short of inspirational.

R & R discussed with Josefina the challenges of starting a reentry legal services nonprofit, and how Root & Rebound could learn from CCA to build the strongest foundation possible for its work. Josefina described the vision of the founders of CCA and the growth behind its reentry services model. Josefina’s biggest piece of advice was to pick one area of narrow focus and to build from there. For example, she cited CCA’s early focus on sentence mediation for people facing criminal convictions, which has since grown into a focus on all things related to alternatives to incarceration and reentry.

And there is still lots of innovation going on at CCA! As an example, CCA, in conjunction with the Vera Institute of Justice and other stakeholders, is developing a pilot program that partners with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to allow a small cohort of people with felony records to live with their family members in NYCHA housing upon release.

Currently, NYCHA has a rule in place that forbids people with a felony records from living in New York City’s public housing. These types of housing restrictions may increase the likelihood of recidivism, as a formerly incarcerated person may end up in less stable living environments or even homeless. But this pilot program will change all that. It will allow 150 individuals with felony records who have family living in NYCHA housing to live with that family upon release. The families that will be involved in this pilot program are those that welcome and desire their formerly incarcerated family member to live with them. Thus, NYCHA will forego its traditional rule that forbids people with felony records from living in public housing for these 150 people and their families. From there, CCA, The Vera Institute, NYCHA and other program leaders will monitor positive outcomes that flow from allowing these 150 individuals to live with their family members. There is hope that, one day, the success of this pilot program will lead NYCHA to remove its housing restriction against individuals with felony records. The pilot program hopes to show that families are perfectly capable of bringing a formerly incarcerated family member into their home, in turn improving that person’s likelihood for reintegration, stability, and success in society.

We were so inspired by our talk with Josefina, and her advice to build the strongest foundation possible for our organization so that we can continue to innovate in the world of criminal justice reform & reentry. From the bottoms of our hearts, from our deepest roots to our highest branches, Root & Rebound would like to thank Josefina and the CCA staff for welcoming us into their space in Brooklyn, sharing their work, and supporting our mission to support individuals exiting prison and jail in Northern California.

Onward!

– The R & R Team

Please take a moment to learn out more about CCA and support them here!

Reentry Reading Wrap Up

Quick end-of-week post of with some of the great articles from around that web this week:

We are very grateful to all of these media/ news outlets and websites for covering the issues that relate to prisoner rights and reentry. It is wonderful to see a diverse set of issues being discussed every week, and we hope the conversations around these issues continues to grow.

Happy reading!
–The R & R Team

Transitional Housing in the Bay Area: Phatt Chance Community Services, Inc.

Before our work trip to New York City, Root & Rebound enjoyed dinner with a great housing advocate, George Turner, Executive Director at Phatt Chance Community Services, Inc.

George R. Turner, Executive Director of Phatt Chance Community Services, Inc.

George R. Turner, Executive Director of Phatt Chance Community Services, Inc.

Phatt Chance is a nonprofit organization that provides transitional short- and long-term housing and other basic support services to men over the age of 18 reintegrating to society after incarceration.

George’s philosophy for providing transitional housing is unique. He is all about prioritizing the needs of the individual residents. While many transitional homes limit an individual’s time of stay to 6 months or until completion of a predetermined treatment program—meaning you are asked to leave or transition out after a short period of time—George believes that the transition from incarceration into society cannot be allotted a one-size-fits-all timeline. This is why his homes are open for both short- and long-term stays, entirely dependent on an individual client’s needs.

This philosophy distinguishes Phatt Chance from many other housing organizations in the Bay Area and across the country. Many post-release housing options require a new resident to have an addiction in order to be eligible for housing. Many transitional homes require that people be of a specific age group or from a specific county. This leaves many people ostracized and alienated from these services. (For more information on transitional housing issues, read: http://www.urban.org/projects/reentry-portfolio/housing.cfm). Phatt Chance fills a gap in transitional housing because it takes new clients as they are. There are no automatic exclusions expect that all residents must be male and over the age 18. Men escaping homelessness, men with or without addiction challenges, men from a broad age range, and men with different health needs live together and may apply to Phatt Chance’s housing.

Phatt Chance’s housing model is particularly well suited to people who will thrive with greater independence in their living situation because there is minimum structure, but the program asks for the maximum level of personal accountability from the clients. While some people leaving prison and jail need greater structure and treatment support, many people succeed in a less structured living environment where they can have more autonomy and control over their daily lives. Residents at Phatt Chance can pursue employment, continued education, counseling services, and other off-site responsibilities when appropriate and congruent with parole conditions. In return, Phatt Chance clients are expected to uphold the integrity of the homes and to treat each other with respect and dignity.

George likes to say, “When you know better, you do better.” Phatt Chance promotes a culture in which residents teach and learn from one another and uphold the greatest level of respect for self-improvement and community-building work.

Short- and long-term housing solutions are vitally important to successful reintegration after incarceration. How can someone build roots in a community and thrive as a returning citizen without safe and appropriate shelter? We urge you to learn more about Phatt Chance and the many challenges and opportunities one faces in establishing good housing after incarceration.

George Turner has dreams of expanding his housing model to a greater number of clients in need. Phatt Chance would like someday to offer transitional housing and reintegration services for women and improve the transitional housing system overall. We hope to support him in these efforts.

—The R & R Team

Honoring Our Veterans

Today we are taking the day off from work for Veteran’s Day, but it doesn’t seem right to let the day go by without posting, to honor and thank all who have served our country, especially the many veterans who live behind bars in our country or with criminal records. This is not a topic often discussed on a day like today, but if we really want to honor all who have served our country, and all who have experienced the horrors and trauma of war, then we must honor those who, struggling with physical and mental health conditions related to their service, all too often find themselves struggling with the criminal justice system as well.

There is a significant correlation between incarceration and the mental health conditions faced by veterans: 40% of veterans with PTSD symptoms commit a crime after discharge from wartime service.[1] As a result, veterans are severely overrepresented in the criminal justice system: nationwide, 10%—1 in 10—of prison and jail inmates once served in the military, the majority in wartime.[2]

As many of you know, mental illness often worsens in prison. There is a lack of adequate treatment in many prisons and jails. Even those veterans without mental illness face significant obstacles reentering society. As we have discussed here on the blog, having a criminal record can make it very difficult to find either housing or employment, and lacking either makes it difficult to find the other, creating a vicious circle. Lack of housing and employment for those recently released from incarceration dramatically increases their chances of recidivism and return to incarceration.[3]

For those veterans whose mental illness needs are never addressed, homelessness may well be the result. One quarter (25%) of the people who are homeless in the United States are veterans. One-third (33%) of homeless men are veterans. Almost all of them (89%) received an honorable discharge, and over two-thirds (76%) experience problems with mental health or addiction.[4]

So today, on Veterans Day, we ask that you take a moment to think about all Veterans—in all corners of our communities, and honor them by thinking about the ways we can better support our incredibly brave men and women when they come home.

To learn more about these issues and to find resources, please visit:

Happy Veterans Day. Thank you to all who have served, and let us hope to be of better service to you when you return home.

—The R & R Team

Weekend Reading: Lessons From European Prisons

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Comparison of German, Dutch, and American incarceration rates. Image from Vera Report, page. 7.

Hello again from chilly NYC!

We can’t wait to fill you in on some of the wonderful work we have learned about during our weeklong trip to this incredible city, where reentry work is thriving.

In the meantime, we thought we would leave you with some reentry-relevant weekend reading: A new report put out by the Vera Institute of Justice and the California Based Prison Law Office, Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States. The report describes the penal systems of the Netherlands and Germany, countries that incarcerate people at one-tenth the rate of the United States, for far less time, and under conditions geared toward social reintegration rather than punishment alone.

The New York Times publishes an Op-Ed yesterday about the report, in which they note that the “American and European systems differ in almost every imaginable way, beginning with their underlying rationale for incarceration. Under German law, the primary goal of prison is ‘to enable prisoners to lead a life of social responsibility free of crime upon release.’ Public safety is ensured not simply by separating offenders from society, but by successfully reintegrating them.”

The Times op-ed also observes a number of critical differences between the United States and these European nations; In the Netherlands and Germany, “inmates are given a remarkable level of control over their lives and their personal privacy” while in prison; “some wear their own clothes and prepare their own meals. They interact with staff trained not only in prison security, but in educational theory and conflict management.” Thus, they are far better prepared for life post-release and for reentry. Furthermore, the courts in these countries “rely heavily on alternatives to prison — including fines, probation and other community-service programs — and they impose much shorter sentences when there is no alternative to incarceration.While the average state prison term in the United States is about three years, more than 90 percent of Dutch sentences and 75 percent of German sentences are 12 months or less.” Notably for our work, “upon release, European inmates do not face the punitive consequences that American ex-prisoners do — from voting bans to restrictions on employment, housing and public assistance, all of which increase the likelihood of re-offending.”

The Times wisely notes that, as many states in the U.S. are reforming their draconian laws and systems of imprisonment, (for example Georgia, Colorado, Maine and Mississippi are all currently reforming solitary-confinement practices), these states should “rethink outdated assumptions” and “would be wise to pay close attention to European counterparts.”

We hope you also take a look at the NY Times article and the original report, and that it inspires you to learn even more about the American system of criminal justice as it compares to others less punitive but more effective, around the world.

Happy reading!

–The R & R Team

Finding roots of reentry in NYC! First Stop: Friends of Island Academy

This Friends of Island Academy mural was created and painted by Mr. Anthony DeJesus, a youth leader.

This Friends of Island Academy mural was created and painted by Mr. Anthony DeJesus, a youth leader.

Welcome to the Big Apple—New York City! As big believers in finding and establishing roots here at Root & Rebound, we decided to take a work trip to the birthplace of the term “reentry”— where the roots to much of the work we care deeply about began. Whereas California’s reentry legal services are often far and few between, New York City has had decades of building up a robust, interconnected system of legal, social, and medical and health service providers for people exiting prisons and jails. People like Stanford Law School professor Debbie Mukamal, who we featured on our blog a couple weeks ago, were the foremothers and forefathers of reentry services on the East Coast. Several others will be featured on the Root & Rebound blog this week.

One of our first meetings was with the incredible Edgar La Luz Torres from Friends of Island Academy (“Friends”) in Harlem. At Friends, they strive to break cycles of incarceration by offering youth members a sense of belonging and limitless opportunities for achievement and growth. When young people become youth members at Friends, they map out personal milestone goals along five key program domains: education; employability; health & well-being; community participation; and recreation & arts.  The longer they remain engaged and connected to the program, the greater the influence on their trajectory to becoming economically independent adults, connected to their communities in positive ways. Friends leverages their strengths, resilience, and hopefulness as they overcome obstacles and transform their lives and communities for the better. Youth member alumnae remain connected to Friends for years, and through their youth leadership services, have had an impact on hundreds of at-risk children and young adolescents delivering their message.

The concept for Friends of Island Academy (“Friends”) developed in the late 1980’s at the alternative high school located in one of the facilities on Rikers Island housing sentenced adolescents.  At that time, the leading cause of death among black male adolescents in New York City was homicide, and the average daily population at Rikers Island was almost double what it is today (approximately 21,000 vs. 13,000 inmates).  In the earliest years of the organization, young people spoke about the importance of having proper clothing to attend funerals, and mothers and grandmothers expressed relief when a son/grandson was incarcerated, as they believed their child would be safer in jail than on the street.  The disproportionate per capita incarceration of young African American males was climbing at an exponential rate. The organization was rooted in collaboration between education and social service staff who sought to address the recidivism rates, untapped potential and disproportionate minority representation among thousands of adolescents who attended school on Rikers Island each year.

In the past 22 years of operation, Friends has seen a shift toward progressive approaches to deterrence and punishment.  The need for effective reentry services and supports became a legislative and executive priority around the nation.  In 1990, Friends was a pioneer in New York City reentry (a term which did not even exist then) by focusing on this specific population of youth in an adult justice system and beginning the reentry process inside, prior to an individual’s release. In New York, youth age 16 and up are prosecuted as adults in New York’s criminal justice system. Friends is unique in that it targets these young people in its work.  The only people they serve are youth coming out of jail and returning to NYC.

Nine years ago, Friends expanded their services in order to break intergenerational cycles of incarceration by providing support to fathers.  Their Friends 2 Fathers program, operating out of a community center in the Parkside Houses in the Bronx, provides services to noncustodial fathers in order to improve parenting skills, address domestic violence and anger management issues, and facilitate employment and child support.

In May 2012, Friends of Island Academy was selected as one of two providers under the nation’s first Social Impact Bond, in which private investment is leveraged to achieve public good.  This initiative, known as the Adolescent Behavioral Learning Experience (ABLE), focuses on personal responsibility, education, training, and counseling with the goal of reducing the likelihood of re-incarceration.

Friends’ staff of facilitators and advocates is on Rikers Island every weekday, Monday through Friday, delivering an evidence-based cognitive behavioral curriculum and connecting youth to resources on the outside.  Together with the Osborne Association, we are delivering the curriculum to approximately 3,000 young people on Rikers annually.

Some of Friends’ core values are engaging in relationships with individuals pre-release, while their clients are still incarcerated, and encouraging their participants to become leaders and mentors in this work. These are program qualities that Root & Rebound hopes to institutionalize in our own work—supporting our clients to become active community members, mentors and leaders, and establishing relationships with individuals pre-release.

Please learn more about Friends of Island Academy here!

We also encourage you to check out some of the other great orgs we’ll be talking to in New York City this week:

Hopefully some additional NYC community profiles to follow!

– The R & R Team