Nearly everyone incarcerated in jail or prison returns home at some point. Whether they are able to reenter society as productive citizens is something we all have an interest in.
Unfortunately, too many returning inmates are hobbled in their ability to reenter normal life. We don’t do enough to prepare people while they’re in jail or when they get out, and we still place unnecessary barriers to employment, education, and housing for people after they’ve done their time.
Our section on Incarceration describes some of the work that can be done while people are incarcerated at Rikers Island to better prepare them for reentry.
New York City can also do so much more to support the many nonprofit organizations dedicated to assisting with housing, employment, education and health services upon an inmate’s release, in order to reduce recidivism. Organizations such as The Fortune Society, The Osborne Association, Getting Out and Staying Out (GOSO), and The Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES) have demonstrated over many years that assisting newly-released individuals find stable housing, obtain workplace skills and gainful employment, complete their education, and accessing health care services dramatically lowers the risk of further involvement with the justice system. The Council funded nearly $7 million for reentry programs in this year’s budget.
Finally, there still remain too many legal obstacles to housing, employment, education, and family unity for those who’ve already paid their debt to society. The New York City Housing Authority won’t rent apartments to people, or even allow people to live in apartments rented by others, who have committed many non-violent offenses that don’t suggest they’d be a threat to anyone. Likewise, the Administration for Children’s Services will bring neglect proceedings against parents convicted of for low-level offenses, like marijuana use. Simple marijuana possession will bar a student from receiving federal loans for a year.
Additionally, numerous professions, occupations and licenses are closed to individuals with a minor criminal record, without any real public safety justification.The Council’s “Ban the Box” law, which Councilman Lancman proudly voted for, prohibits employers from considering an applicants criminal record until after a conditional offer of employment is made. But there needs to be a careful reconsideration of the scope of these bars to gainful employment.