Catch 22: COVID-19 & immediate release of returning citizens

Throughout the country, there has been discussion, attempts, and the actual release of people from prisons and jails. The influence of the current COVID-19 health crisis has on the conditions, treatment, and medical care of inmates has been eye-opening at best and disheartening at worst. As necessary as it is to consider the overall conditions of inmates and the influence this treatment has on the essential release of inmates now, it is equally important to discuss resources and barriers.

The influence of the current COVID-19 health crisis has on the conditions, treatment, and medical care of inmates has been eye-opening at best and disheartening at worst.

There are obstacles with people returning home on average, including obtaining housing, engaging in mental/addiction treatment, and finding employment upon their release, these issues intensify when attempting to reintegrate during a health epidemic. We must examine what resources are available within any given community for those who are returning home. For instance, it is common knowledge that in the state of Ohio, there is a lack of housing, and it is especially problematic for those who have criminal convictions. With safety concern surging, how will Ohio assist returning citizen in obtaining housing? Will emergency housing be provided or will we assume those leaving prison have a safe place to reside?

With safety concern surging, how will Ohio assist returning citizen in obtaining housing?

Although there are barriers to housing, even treatment facilities have restrictions on services, including most agencies engaging in “virtual sessions.” As we celebrate the benefits of technology, we must acknowledge the barriers. Many people recently released from prison do not have access to technology, which may decrease their ability to access certain services and connect with others so easily, increasing the likelihood of mental health symptoms intensifying or developing. The inability to communicate with people as quickly or easily is dangerous, causing barriers in one’s ability to successfully reintegrate. Also, we must consider the dangers of recidivism that returning citizens face when coming home to deteriorating communities (or gentrified) and, at times, even unhealthy family members/ friends. A lack of planning can increase their chances of walking into those revolving doors of prisons.

As our advocacy efforts increase for a mass release from prison, we must attempt to measure how they will be successful by identifying their needs and assessing if we have the capacity to meet those needs. We should be exploring how they can successfully reintegrate during a health crisis while simultaneously place focus on policies and programs that will enable them to remain successful one year, five years, or even ten years from now. Additionally, we have to acknowledge the unintended consequences of the immediate release of inmates , such as spike in homelessness or health care services being provided and develop a systemic approach to helping people reintegrate during this pandemic. When a strategic plan is not developed regarding returning citizens, we not only do them a disservice, there can be a rippling effect on society as a whole.

A lack of planning can increase their chances of walking into those revolving doors of prisons.

Challenge:

The current conditions and need for immediate release of inmates is important, but what about their needs once they return to their communities?

Food for thought: 

COVID-19 has taught us several important things. First, we are capable of criminal justice reform. Second, we know that non-violent, low-level offenders can be released to the community… quickly. Third, it has ensured us that high incarceration rates and/or pretrial rates can be avoided. Lastly, the power we have in numbers can push any advocacy efforts we desire forward.

Call to action: 

Develop a list of 5 resources they could be helpful to someone returning home to your county and post it on your social media accounts.

Write to your legislators to encourage them to support the criminal justice reform needed at all levels, including 1) the call for the release of inmates and 2) increasing funding for agencies to expand their services and provide safe environments for those they serve.

Find your state representative 

 

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