September 29, 2015
For formerly incarcerated individuals, systemic disenfranchisement thwarts reentry into society. As African Americans and Latinos make up 70 percent of California’s prisoners and parolees, communities and people of color are disproportionately impacted.
According to California legal aid leaders Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), and Meredith Desautels, Staff Attorney with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR), reentry reform is critical to ending discrimination and helping people exit the criminal justice system for good.
Reforms start with treating formerly incarcerated people as people and community members first–people who are on the verge of success with the right support, and people who are critical assets to their families and our communities. To do this, formerly incarcerated people must be included in conversations about reentry efforts and barriers.
Employment practices offer additional opportunities for reform. One of the most visible and successful reentry initiatives in the country is the Ban the Box campaign, which seeks to remove the question that asks about conviction history from initial applications for employment. To expand Ban the Box and related protections, policymakers must call on employers to take a seat at the table of reentry reform. Employers have to view themselves as having a meaningful role to play and also must begin to incorporate the new paradigm where formerly incarcerated people are viewed as individuals first, with talents to contribute if given the opportunity.
Another important policy milestone is the implementation of Proposition 47 currently underway in California, the nation’s largest record-change effort in history. Passed by voters in November 2014, the law gives people until 2017 to reduce six low-level, nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors, helping to mitigate barriers to jobs, housing, education, and more.
Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC), Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR)