LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS
We need a smarter approach to post-prison reentry
By Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg
During this unprecedented national reckoning, it is up to us now to seize this moment, at the very time we are in the midst of a world pandemic, to make real and meaningful improvements for communities that have been severely neglected for far too long.
This is why I introduced Senate Bill 369 to establish the California Reentry Commission.
“Reentry,” as it is called, is really just the process of our law enforcement system releasing those who have paid their debts to society. Then it is our responsibility to do everything we can to help them get back on their feet, and not effectively continue their punishment by simply washing our hands about their futures. The purpose of my legislation is to recognize the enormous challenges facing these returning Californians and to help them navigate the difficult journey of successfully reentering our communities.
Several studies have shown that supporting reentry programs is one of the very best ways to prevent people from reoffending, further injuring their own lives and prospects, and threatening our communities. Unfortunately, there are too many stigmas about those re-entering society following their incarceration. There is also a severe lack of public, and frankly, political attention on the potential of these re-entry programs to help these individuals succeed and reduce recidivism.
Instead the conversation is often waylaid into tangential debates about other issues such as use of force, inconsistent sentencing, etc., all which are important but miss the key issue: How can California best help those reentering society after incarceration for their benefit and the safety of our communities? The result is our current fragmented, under-resourced support system that simply cannot begin to provide the breadth of assistance needed by those released from California jails or prisons.
In short, we have long been setting up these future members of our communities for failure — which is unfair to them and unsafe for us.
Compounding the inadequacy of this system is the fact that California’s reentry population is not only the largest in the country, but it will only continue to grow. In 2018, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released almost 35,000 who had finished their sentences or been granted parole. And due to accelerated release actions ordered necessary by the Governor to help reduce the impact of COVID-19 in our prisons, this year is likely to see even more releases.
With orders to release even more in light of the pandemic, the timing couldn’t be any better for California to establish an ambitious and committed statewide commission to tackle the extraordinary challenges facing our state’s reentry population. This is not revolutionary; it is actually catch-up. Since Ohio established the first such commission in 2007, nearly 30 states have already established similar reentry commissions, coalitions, councils or task forces to provide coordinated leadership and evidence- based solutions to problems faced by those leaving jails and prisons.
And here’s what we know – they work. For instance, Washington, which established its Statewide Reentry Council in 2016, enacted six new laws based on the council’s work by 2018, and all reports are positive.
In California, a host of phenomenal community-based reentry organizations — such as the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and the Center for Employment Opportunities — already are working tirelessly “on the ground” to provide services for those leaving jails and prisons. What they lack is essential support from our state government.
Sadly, it turns out that the overwhelming majority of people reentering our communities after serving their time are coming home now when there are the least amount of jobs and other needed tools for their reintegration success. As a result, literally thousands of Californians are being returned to a place that may be no safer than the jail or prison to which they were confined.
The California Reentry Commission created by Senate Bill 369 will offer the potential for some critically needed new tools, and focus, to help those struggling to regain their footing after properly serving their time. Equally important, it will be a vital new investment in our collective future.
Note: This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on August 8, 2020.