California released a record numbers of prisoners without an appropriate place for them to go. Often, the formerly incarcerated are put in programs that offer no real help for the problems they face.
The parole board grants parole, but a prisoner must show that he or she has a place to stay upon release; 80% of those released are placed in state funded or philanthropically supported transitional housing, according to an article in Mother Jones.
People are placed in drug programs when they don’t have drug problems and wind up living in conditions that resemble those in prison, reported Marissa Endicott.
Terah Lawyer, after 15 years in prison needed to show the parole board she had a place to stay upon release. She had already secured a job working for the California Coalition of Women Prisoners.
Her reentry placement turned out to be a drug treatment facility with strict schedules and restrictions requiring her to attend treatment classes that she did not need. In fact, she had become a certified drug counselor while in prison.
She had to delay starting her new job for 90 days due to the program’s restrictions..
“The whole process of transitioning was hindered and stalled. It handicapped me in in certain areas because I didn’t have that immediate exposure I needed to see what life was like out there,” Lawyer told Endicott.
Thousands of parolees are released each year, with stable housing being critical to their future success. Problems occur when home owners are reluctant to rent to them or allow placement of transitional housing in their neighborhood.
Few appropriate reentry options exist for those who have served long sentences, increasing the chance of former prisoners soon becoming homeless.
California is ground zero for this problem due to its lack of affordable housing. In the midst of criminal justice reform, California’s prison population has dropped by 25%. New reform laws implemented are putting more people back on the streets.
Between 2017 and 2018 there was a 7% increase in the number of lifers released, 25% increase in 3-strikes releases, a 48% increase in releases for people who were serving life without the possibility of parole, and 50% increase in releases for those who were once sentenced to death, according to Mother Jones.
It is a crisis within a crisis: the special housing needs of people released from prison while an affordable housing crisis spreads across the state. Crystal Wheeler, served 22 years, struggling with trauma issues from the years spent in prison and the mental and physical abuse by her husband.
With no family, her parole conditions mandated she stay in a re-entry housing program, a six-month program in Claremont Calif., which specialized in drug and alcohol treatment.
Despite her never having a drug or alcohol problem, Wheeler was forced to attend daily AA meetings at 6 a.m. “That time could have been better used for teaching us things that our husbands never let us do,” she said.
The department of corrections acknowledges shortcomings in re-entry housing and has a policy to reduce the number of people without drug problems ending up in drug treatment centers.
In 2016 the state allocated $10 million for re-entry services for people who had served long sentences, starting a six-month transitional housing program the following year.
By 2018, CDCR’s long term transitional housing had produced 257 facility beds. But, the demand continues to grow. According to Mother Jones, 902 people were paroled in 2014 and an estimated 20,500 long term incarcerated people will be up for a parole hearing in the next 10 years.