California has just launched the nation’s first statewide coordinated effort to bolster the re-entry process, helping to support incarcerated people who are released from prisons and jails, according to The Associated Press.
The group, named the Re-Entry Providers Association of California (REPAC), was formed to pool resources and coordinate efforts to better serve the incarcerated community, according to the October 29 article. In addition, the group will lobby state and local governments and seek increased funding to help the newly released find jobs, housing, childcare, transportation, training, and other essential services.
The aim is to amplify the voices of the formerly incarcerated, who make up a crucial sector of society and simply do not get the resources and support they need, said REPACs director Donald Frazier.
In a typical year, California releases up to 35,000 people, a number that spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the state spends more on mass incarceration than it does on the entire University of California system, an average of over $100,000 per incarcerated person per year. By comparison, funding for re-entry services has lagged far behind, despite its importance to reducing recidivism and protecting public safety, according to organizers.
San Quentin works with the non-profit California Re-Entry Program, which provides 24 volunteer advisors to help incarcerated people at San Quentin prepare for re-entry and for parole board hearings.
San Quentin resident Curtis White described this re-entry support as “absolutely invaluable,” and said that it provides the opportunity for advisors to have one-on-one meetings with incarcerated people, which allows them to get a sense of each person’s specific needs and point them to resources that fit.
“More funding would always be helpful,” said Judith Tata, the program’s director. “There is definitely funding out there for re-entry services but there is also too much competition between providers for that limited funding.”
Underfunding means re-entry services often lack the resources to break the cycle of repeated incarceration, said Steven Kim of Project Kinship, an Orange County re-entry service provider and member of REPAC. This cycle can create a pattern that repeats for generations.
A 2018 study by Californians for Safety and Justice found more than half of people with a criminal record have difficulty finding a job, and more than a quarter have trouble finding housing, according to the AP article.
White recalled how during the COVID-19 pandemic, “guys leaving were panicking, some of them were only days away from their release and didn’t know where to go. I’d get a kite on the tier from guys asking for help and I’d tell them to get in touch with the California Re-Entry Program. They were a lifeline.” He says that re-entry can be the last line of defense against recidivism, especially for younger guys who need access to these resources to plan for the future.
Tata said the Re-Entry Program is looking to expand its gate services, which includes pickup at the gate and transport to a halfway house, as well as a new backpack that comes stocked with a basic cellphone.
“In our experience, providing support and helping with a smooth process during the first 24 to 76 hours after release is absolutely essential to avoiding relapse and to the successful transition of our clients,” said Tata.
Raising awareness of the importance of re-entry services and increasing funding for critical gaps, like gate pickups and early transition services, is what REPAC can help to achieve.
“REPAC is going to be that essential unified voice that we need,” said California state senator Maria Elena Durazo. “…There’s no better time for REPAC to have begun.”