New “one-stop” program would acknowledge many hurdles for returning citizens
Congresswoman Karen Bass is spearheading legislation to create a one-stop reentry program, as well as criminal justice reform, according to the Los Angeles Sentinel.
“There should be a place where you can get your ID, sign up for benefits, get connected to medical services, get transportation — a place where people can get their lives on track quickly,” Bass said at a July 13 legislative hearing in Los Angeles on criminal justice changes.
Bass, a Los Angeles Democrat, has concentrated on criminal justice reform most of her political career, according to the Sentinel. She said she is currently working on reform legislation.
“Many of our criminal justice policies are good; they protect our loved ones and communities,” said Bass. “At the same time, far too many of our laws are ineffective or do more harm than good. I am committed to reforming criminal justice so that it is sensible, effective and consistent with our notions of equality and fairness.
“In addition, we need to ensure that those who have paid their debt to society have reentry services and opportunities to live productive lives.”
Among those attending the hearing were Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life.
“I’m really thankful to Karen Bass for holding this hearing, so that we can dis- cuss women and their need (upon reentry to society),” Burton told reporter Jennifer Bihm. “I know what it could mean to leave prison and not have safety.”
Burton’s reentry program is geared towards helping women function after prison.
“I’ve visited 40 states and 36 prisons. When we talked about what women need when they are leaving; overwhelmingly, I saw women who were desperately trying to maintain their parental rights,” said Burton. “I saw women who wanted a job but were worried about how they would be employed.”
The topic of jobs, housing and reunification were topics that Bass mentioned.
Witness John Harriel of reentry program 2nd Call said, “I did not know that I had low self-esteem grow- ing up. I had no idea that I wanted to commit suicide. I didn’t want to do it by my own hands. I wanted some- one else to do it. When I think back, there were no men leading the way, putting on their boots and going to work every day. I envisioned going to prison as a young man because in my community going to prison was rewarded.”
Harriel said he pulled his life back from the edge with the help of two support members. He has successfully gained a union job and is now a homeowner and a mentor to the youth, accord- ing to the article.
Another witness, Stanley Bailey, said he is a former drug addict who spent 36 years in prison. He said people with mental health issues make up a large part of the prison population and don’t receive the help they need.
Bass commented, “I believe we could drastically reduce prison overcrowding by repealing harsh mandatory minimums and reserving the toughest sentences for serious criminals who threaten public safety. We should invest in community-oriented crime prevention and intervention efforts for struggling neighborhoods and at-risk youth.”