by Jay Williams
Up to 95 percent of people who are incarcerated in Connecticut will eventually return to our communities. Like all of us, people released from incarceration need a safe and stable place to live in order to live successful lives. Studies have shown that returning citizens with housing are far less likely to commit a new crime and end up back behind bars.
Last year, the Hartford Foundation was pleased to support the development and opening of the Reentry Welcome Center in Hartford, which coordinates access to immediate services after release from prison. The Center was developed using research that relied on input from people who have returned to the community. Access to housing, food, employment and healthcare were cited as the most pressing needs. Housing is a vital element to achieving other key reentry goals, including finding a job, strengthening connections to supportive social networks, as well as maintaining sobriety and stable mental and physical health.
Connecticut’s Commission on Equity and Opportunity (CEO) recently held an event to share the findings of a report issued by CEO and the Reentry Work Group. The report offers a comprehensive set of recommendations to expand access to housing for men and women returning home from incarceration.
It is fitting that this effort was led by CEO, an organization that takes a nonpartisan, data driven, cross cultural approach to developing policy and to working to eliminate disparities by creating opportunities, building connections, and promoting systems change. The Hartford Foundation takes the same approach in its work to address the persistent disparities in accessing opportunities that many people encounter based on their race, where they live, and their income.
In partnership with nonprofits and other partners, Hartford Foundation efforts have recognized these disparities returning citizens face. In addition to the Reentry Welcome Center, the Foundation has supported BEST Chance job training programs that offer contextualized learning, with appropriate supporting services, that result in participants receiving nationally recognized credentials in construction, manufacturing and culinary training. The Foundation has also been a long-time supporter of Judy Dworin Performance Project’s work with children of incarcerated parents and their families.
We applaud CEO’s hard work to develop an authentic, inclusive process to produce the recommendations in the report. This process engaged a diverse range of public/private partners to draw upon their perspectives on what we all know is a complex issue, exacerbated by the public stigma and assumptions often faced by people with a criminal record.
CEO elicited input and suggestions from nonprofits, public housing authorities, reentry services, property owners, researchers and many others to analyze data, systemic issues, and develop evidence-based strategies that can help shape policy to address the challenges before us.
But most importantly, CEO involved those with first-hand knowledge: the men and women returning home from incarceration who have lived housing and other reentry challenges they face as they work toward reestablishing themselves in their communities. Hearing their experiences is critical. The perspectives of these women and men must ground our work and help us focus us squarely on what needs attention the most, and consider approaches they think could work.
The report offers a series of recommendations designed to strengthen policies to prevent discrimination in both public and private housing and remove barriers to securing housing for individuals with criminal records.
Recommendations also include evidence-based interventions that can reduce homelessness, housing instability and recidivism for the reentry population. The report also offers strategies to improve coordination and data integration among the Departments of Correction, Housing, Judicial Department Court Support Services Division, and reentry service providers to drive stronger results.
If fully enacted and effectively implemented, these recommendations would go a long way to ensuring that the approximately 2,000 men and women released from incarceration each year can secure stable housing that provides a base for finding a job and supporting their families when they return home.
The Foundation is also pleased to support the production of a documentary being developed by CEO to continue to share the perspective of returning citizens and their families. In these times when the public increasingly gathers information and news of the day in different ways, this documentary will help to bring the voices of returning citizens that are seldom heard to audiences.
Jay Williams is President of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which serves a region that includes 29 towns, hundreds of nonprofits and more than 750,000 residents.The Foundation’s mission isputting philanthropy into action to create lasting solutions that result in vibrant communities within the Greater Hartford region.