Leaving prison opens the door to a daunting array of potential problems, including finding a place to live and a job to support a life of freedom, the Los Angeles Times reports.
A result is that many newly released people become homeless, the Aug. 2 story notes.
“This is a population that we can all agree is vulnerable to falling into the streets. And it’s a population who has paid their debt to society. So the only alternative is to keep everybody incarcerated forever. And we have tried that before,” said Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, D- Los Angeles.
Knowing that he has somewhere to sleep at the end of the day has “been a breath of fresh air,” said Donald Jones, a recently-released Californian who is living in a transitional housing program until he can find a stable home for himself—a milestone that will bring him a feeling that he has “accomplished something,” Jones said.
However, many people are not lucky enough to find permanent housing after incarceration. Assemblymember Bryan introduced AB1816 in an effort to allocate $200 million to strengthen long-term housing options for formerly incarcerated people. But when California’s budget was finalized, it did not include money for AB 1816, even with the state’s record-high surplus of more than $100 billion.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is pushing criminal justice reform, prison closures, shortened sentences, and calling to abolish Death Row, all of which could ease overcrowding in prisons, the Times noted. But what happens to people with a criminal record once they’re released back into society? Some have nowhere to go upon release.
A study by the Prison Policy Initiative in 2018 found that formerly incarcerated people are up to 10 times more likely to experience homelessness than other populations.
Beyond time-limited transitional housing programs and vouchers for individuals reentering the community, many returning citizens face homelessness and barriers to housing. Effectively they suffer continued punishment even after serving their prison sentences, and their circumstances contribute to the crisis of homelessness, according to the Times.
Formerly incarcerated tenants are at the mercy of property owners, who have the power and right to conduct background checks on criminal history. Regulations say that anyone convicted of certain crimes, including sex offenses or drug charges, can be restricted from accessing federally subsidized housing.
A 2020 law bans property owners from discriminating against people who used a housing voucher for rent payments, which is often the only option for someone who has left incarceration.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has a large number of resources for community-based programs that assist with substance use treatment, family reunification, education and employment training, the story noted. It also offers housing and reentry programs that people can take advantage of at the end of their sentences. However, these programs are usually time-limited.
But housing barriers are just “another form of redlining,” according Emily Harris, a policy director at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland.
“As we’re leaning away from a ‘lock them up’ mentality in California, we need to provide more infrastructure that supports them when they’re coming out. In terms of the budget priorities of the state, we can invest in imprisonment, which is incredibly costly, or we can invest in other forms of community safety like stable housing, which is much cheaper and has a much better long-term impact on people,” said Harris.
In June, Newsom and lawmakers proposed that millions of dollars be directed to expanding transitional housing and reentry programs in an effort to help “prepare incarcerated individuals to successfully reenter their communities following their release from prison,” according to the state budget proposal.
To this end, legislation introduced last year proposed to reroute the money saved from prison closures to provide new housing and work training opportunities for the people recently incarcerated. This request failed in a key fiscal committee, the story noted.
According to a California Health Policy Strategies analysis, 70% of unsheltered homeless people report having spent time incarcerated, the report notes.