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.
– The R & R Team