Reimagining Reentry: Letters from Inside

Happy Holidays, Friends of Root & Rebound!

As 2015 comes to a close, we are excited and proud to launch our end-of-year campaign, Reimagine Reentry, featuring a video about our work, Letters from Inside.

The goal of this campaign is not only to raise money, but to raise awareness in the Bay Area and beyond about what we do here at Root & Rebound. This year, Root & Rebound produced and published the Roadmap to Reentry, a legal guide that provides comprehensive guidance on barriers in reentry across nine areas of law and life.

In 2016, we plan to expand the use of Roadmap to Reentry, so that we can transfer powerful information from a small legal community to the massive number of people facing disenfranchisement upon release.

Additionally, we will provide more community-based trainings across California—in prisons, for families with incarcerated loved ones; with correctional departments; at community centers, and in places of worship—to strengthen families and communities.

We also plan to make the Roadmap to Reentry information more accessible for people in reentry and their advocates by building online content and interactive toolkits to reach more people, thus increasing access.

Finally, we will continue our policy reform work and grow our efforts to educate partner groups, advocates, and policymakers about issues on the ground—to reduce barriers and expand opportunities for people coming out of prison and jail, and create a healthier society.

To accomplish all this, we need your help! Please take 3 minutes to watch our video, share with your social networks, and if you can, make a donation.

 

Solitary Confinement: “It’s As If We Want Them to Fail”

Written by Sean Larner Evan Ebel was worried about leaving prison — and reasonably so. His last couple years were spent by himself in a cinderblock cell the size of two queen mattresses. Before his release Ebel wondered, in a … Continue reading

#BanTheBox: Take Action for Federal Fair-Chance Hiring!

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Join the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights today for a National Day of Action calling on President Obama to give people with records a fair chance to work at federal agencies and contractors.

Here’s how to help:

  • Sign this letter to President Obama urging his administration to ‘Ban the Box’ on federal job applications and to adopt other fair chance hiring reforms for all job seekers, including those with records!
  • Send a tweet to President Obama (@POTUS)
    • It’s time for the U.S. to adopt a federal #FairChance hiring policy! Tell @POTUS to #BantheBox pic.twitter.com/73sQk8oixo
    • @POTUS can help open up employment opportunities for qualified job-seekers with records #BanTheBox #FairChance pic.twitter.com/73sQk8oixo
    • #FairChance reforms restore hope & opportunity to qualified job-seekers with an arrest or conviction record. @POTUS, it’s time to #BanTheBox

Nationwide, over 100 cities and counties have adopted what is widely known as “ban the box” so that employers consider a job candidate’s qualifications first, without the stigma of a conviction record. These initiatives provide applicants a fair chance by removing the conviction history question on the job application and delaying the background check inquiry until later in the hiring.

17 states and over 100 cities and counties have taken steps to remove barriers to employment for qualified workers with records. Six states, the District of Columbia, and eleven cities and counties extend their fair chance hiring policies to local private employers. It’s time for President Obama to take executive action on federal fair chance hiring.

Here’s the bottom line: Fair chance hiring policies should extend to federal contractors and agents. Formerly incarcerated people deserve equitable opportunities to success.


“Ban the box” initiatives help individuals, families, and local communities by reducing the stigma attached to having a criminal record. These policies are based on fairness, inclusion, and community improvement. Citizens going through the reentry process face myriad barriers to their access to housing, social services, education, and employment. Fair chance hiring policies help alleviate boundaries to formerly incarcerated people’s success.

Stable and secure employment is critical if we hope to give meaningful second chances to people coming home from prison and jail. Formerly incarcerated people should not be denied the ability to succeed. The federal government has the opportunity to send a message that people in the reentry process are valuable—and valued—members of society.

Website Feature: Reentry Resources Center

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Hi Readers!

Thanks to everyone who has written to us about our new website. We have received an overwhelmingly positive response– which has been really encouraging! Today, we are highlighting a special section on the website: the Reentry Resource Center, with free current information that targets many of the common questions and concerns of people in reentry and their advocates. This is a feature we are really excited about!

Why did we create the Reentry Resource Center?

We created the Reentry Resource Center as a go-to free online resource for people preparing for or in reentry, their advocates, and the wider public. Why? (1) There isn’t enough information out there for people in reentry and (2) the resources that do exist are not centralized in one, easy to access place. People in reentry need information about where they are allowed to live, the kinds of jobs they can apply for, and whether they can see their children again.

Who is it for?

This hub aims to make reentry resources (legal resources, social service resources, and reports/studies on reentry) directly accessible to people preparing for or in reentry. It is also for their advocates: the social worker, the close friend, the reentry lawyer, working to provide support.

What resources are available and how are they organized?

Currently, there are 3 types of resources available online: (1) Legal Resources for People in Reentry and Their Advocates; (2) Social Service Resources- Guides for CA programs and services; and (3) Studies and Reports on Reentry Issues.

(1)  Legal Resources for People in Reentry and Their Advocates

So many people in reentry don’t have access to an attorney and we are limited in our reach for whom we can provide direct services. Putting legal reentry resources online ensures that people who can’t step into our office for consultation or attend our legal trainings will still have a reference where they can access the legal information that is out there. This section is full of resources that pertain to specific areas of law and barriers people face: general resources, probation and parole rules, housing law, public benefits law, employment law, family law, education law, immigration law, expungement, and voting laws.

What is exciting to us about 2014 is that we are developing a California “Know Your Rights Guide” which will cover eight key areas of law and will be a one-stop resource for people in reentry to get the legal information they need to understand what rights, protections, restrictions, and risks exist under law. This will be available online and in print in September of this year, and we hope it will be utilized by thousands of people across the state and country!

Disclaimer: When we put together legal information, we do our best to make sure it is useful and accurate – and we periodically be check it for currentness. Of course, the laws change frequently and are subject to differing interpretations so when using the legal material, please be aware that the laws may have changed, and do check whether if it is still applicable to your situation.

(2) Social Service Resources- Guides to CA Programs and Services

People in reentry often don’t know where to go for programs and services that they need, from mental health services to housing; from vocational training to education; from parenting classes to food pantries and clothing closets. This can be remedied by having a centralized place online that collects and shares existing guides to services across the state.

More guides for programs and services need to be created. There simply are not enough of these guides in existence. We at Root & Rebound are developing our own resource guide for Alameda County (available from August 2014) and working with others in counties across the state to promote the creation of these resource guides for their counties.

(3)  Studies and Reports on Reentry Issues

Here we share scholarship from around the country on all areas of reentry and criminal justice issues for people who want to learn more. This is a place to share in the excitement of the movement across the nation away from mass incarceration and to a focus on bringing people back to the community with the support they need.

We are very shortly publishing a report, Voices From The Field (May 2014), which brings together the voices of practitioners, individuals and advocates that Root & Rebound staff interviewed about the reentry landscape nation wide and the major gaps and unmet needs in reentry. It also shares best practices in starting a reentry program.

 

We are excited to share this feature today and we hope our readers will share the resources with individuals, groups, and the wider community. Spread the word!

Lastly, if you have any suggestions on how we can improve to this resource center, please let us know! We would love to hear from you. Comment here or email info@rootandrebound.org!

Thanks for being a part of our work!

– The R & R Team

Bay Area Reentry Connection Event – Continuing the Reentry Conversation!

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Our incredible speakers & venue.

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Root & Rebound Staff (from left to right) Kony Kim, Sonja Tonnesen, Katherine Katcher, and Aiasha Khalid with CRI Reentry Coordinator, Alton Mcsween or “Coach” (center).

Last week, Root & Rebound and the California Reentry Institute were delighted to co-host the Bay Area Reentry Connection event at the Berkeley City Club. The event brought together many inspirational groups and individuals to discuss the complex issues and challenges surrounding reentry.  The turnout was huge—demonstrating the passion and dedication of all those working in criminal justice and reentry issues around the Bay Area. More than 100 people were in attendance!

In the first part of the evening, the audience heard four powerful speakers, all formerly incarcerated individuals, who shared their personal stories of incarceration and reentry, and the many challenges and barriers they faced and continue to face as people with criminal records. The speakers described life in reentry, especially the early days, as stressful, thrilling and terrifying. They described how decades of incarceration can fill a person with trauma and fear, and how hard it can be to adapt the chaotic and changed world they return to. Simple things such as using a phone, travelling to an appointment, and using public transport can take hours of planning and can cause severe anxiety. For many of the speakers, the biggest help of all was their social network—or just one person—who made the difference: a friend, a wife, social worker who gave them the time of day, who really listened, and who used their own social capital to build support for the speaker.

A key theme that came out of the speaker panel and the Q&A with them was the need for reentry organizations to improve collaboration so that people in reentry receive a continuum of care and stronger wraparound services. Since we as a legal advocacy center are committed to increasing collaboration in the field so that clients receive more holistic care, we were thrilled that this was a main takeaway from the event.

We hope to host many more collaborative events and workshops in future and we would love to hear from any of our readers who would like to be involved in any future planning. We would like to thank the Berkeley City Club as well as all those who attended the event, for your enthusiasm and passion about reentry issues!

Let’s continue the conversation!

– The R&R Team

Support SB 1384! Help people access stable jobs as certified nursing assistants.

We urge you to support Senate Bill 1384! SB 1384 (Mitchell) reforms the stringent conviction barriers to becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) by eliminating  the automatic denial of certified nursing assistant (CNA) applicants that have one of a long list of specific convictions, regardless of how much time has passed or a person’s significant efforts to transform. It provides all CNA applicants discretionary review of their criminal record and recognizes that certain conditions–like the passage of time and no subsequent convictions–is actual evidence of rehabilitation. SB 1384 expands opportunities for qualified, rehabilitated individuals to access this growing industry of living-wage jobs. In Root & Rebound’s conversations with formerly incarcerated people and service providers, this is a barrier that we have heard time and time again. Certified nursing assistants make a living wage and it is a good, stable job that should be open to people who have shown their rehabilitation and commitment to working.

Mandatory rejection of prospective CNAs—even for decades-old convictions and low-level offenses like petty theft—disregards studies showing that the passage of time substantially reduces the likelihood of recidivism to a level equal to those who have never been arrested. Such blanket prohibitions against employment opportunities defy California’s commitment to evidence-based policies that reduce recidivism and encourage reintegration. Studies show that stable employment decreases the likelihood of recidivism by as much as 62%. Yet, California continues to impose stringent barriers on the hundreds of licensed occupations that would provide stability and increased mobility for persons who most need it.

SB 1384 protects public safety by preserving the discretion to deny a CNA application where there is evidence that the individual has not rehabilitated. This commonsense revision models the current provisions that apply to Registered Nurses and thus gives CNA applicants with a criminal record a chance to be evaluated on the basis of their record and all evidence of rehabilitation.

Persons with a criminal record–estimated at one in four adults–urgently need access to stable jobs that pay more than the minimum wage. This is particularly the case for justice-involved women, many of whom are the primary caregiver for dependent children. These women seek employment as a CNA so that they can get off public assistance and provide food, housing and other necessities for their family. CNA opportunities are expected to increase by more than 22-percent from 2010-2020. To ban individuals from this growing industry of living-wage jobs on the sole basis of a past conviction not only denies opportunities to rehabilitated individuals; it denies many families a real chance to climb out of poverty.

California’s commitment to reducing recidivism–which remains high at 63.5%–must include measures that increase opportunities to growing industries of living-wage jobs. SB 1384 would pave the way for such reform, while also ensuring that public safety remains paramount.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health Committee. We encourage you and your organizations to write letters of support no later than Tuesday, April 16.*** The proposed bill language can be accessed here: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=sb_1384&sess=CUR&house=B&author=mitchell_<mitchell>. For more information or questions about SB 1384 and to request a sample letter of support, you can direct questions to Natalie Lyons at Equal Rights Advocates at nlyons@equalrights.org or (415) 575-2394.

Help people get back to work!

– The R & R Team

 

 

Reentry legal services change lives.

Last month, we wrote a blog post about a fantastic community resource in the South Bay: the San José State University (SJSU) Record Clearance Project. This clinic, led by Professor and Attorney Margaret (Peggy) Stevenson, engages undergraduate students to assist people in clearing their eligible criminal records. They do this by:

  • providing legal education about the dismissal process to potential clients;
  • preparing their clients’ petitions to the court, requesting dismissals and reductions of eligible convictions;
  • leading mock court hearings where people can practice talking to a judge about what a dismissal will mean to them in putting their lives back on track and seeking new opportunities, including better jobs and housing;
  • paying for all the court costs and fees associated with their clients’ cases for dismissal.

This week, the Record Clearance Project shared an INCREDIBLE VIDEO interviewing people in Elmwood Jail who have benefitted from the SJSU expungement clinic. The people interviewed in the video talk about how the expungement process has provided them with new opportunities and countless benefits in moving beyond their past. For example, several folks spoke about how the expungement process helped them find better jobs, access professional licenses that got their careers back on track, and find better housing. Many spoke from the heart about how getting their records dismissed gave them renewed self-confidence & self-love. This service gave people a second chance. See the video below:

Record Clearance Project 3/18/14 from John Kane on Vimeo.

As noted in the video, a judge can dismiss an eligible person’s criminal record “in the interests of justice.” This is a broad standard giving the judge a lot of discretion. This is exactly the type of situation where a lawyer and legal advocates are extremely important! If the judge has discretionary power, advocates can counsel their clients to tell their own story in the most impactful way possible and help advocate for a second chance with the client.

This video highlights the importance doing THIS WORK! And the importance of LEGAL ADVOCACY in reentry! It shows how reducing barriers in reentry, by providing legal services like expungements, changes lives and creates opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist. People who need reentry legal services have no legal right to an attorney, and there is no money for these services. Having nonprofit lawyers and volunteers engaged means that more and more people can overcome barriers in reentry and access opportunities to create the lives they dream and work hard for.

Thanks, SJSU Record Clearance Project and the people interviewed for this project, for sharing your work and incredible stories!

— The R & R Team