850+

The American Bar Association defines “collateral sanctions” as: “a legal penalty, disability or disadvantage, however denominated, that is imposed on a person automatically upon that person’s conviction for a felony, misdemeanor or other offense, even if it is not included in the sentence.”

850+.This number marks the estimated laws that impact ones ability to reintegrate into society in state of Ohio. This number marks the number of collateral sanctions the state of Ohio has written. Collateral sanctions are consequences in addition to a sentence someone receives, such as an inability for someone charge with sexual imposition to work at a day care.

Collateral sanctions are not inherently negative, but when collateral sanctions become excessive and barriers to people transitioning home, our problems begins. There are people with 20+ year convictions who are unable to engage in certain career fields, such as being a hair stylist due collateral sanctions.

Reform cannot take place unless we examine and revise those implicit and explicit barriers that are already in existence. In addition to creating new laws that assist in “rehabilitating”, we must rid or revise those laws that slow down or impede the rehabilitative process.

Remember, Returning Citizens have a place amoung us. Their thoughts, talents/skills, and efforts deserve a seat next to ours. There are many persons who have served time in prison/jail and/or have recieved other consequences, we should not seek to punish them repetitively. Unfortunately, our legal system has created a cycle of incarceration through policies that influence their ability to have limited access to housing, employment, insurance, and/or education.

Resources: if you are a person who has been involvement with the criminal justice system, locate below is a database for Ohio’s collateral sanctions. It is important to know any limitations/restrictions attached to any charges you may have.

CIVICC: OHIO’S COLLATERAL SANCTIONS DATABASE

Call to action: write to your legislators to encourage them to support the criminal justice reform needed in Ohio and Cuyahoga county.

Incarceration & Our Current Health Crisis

he world is in a current health crisis due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus (better known as the Coronavirus). There has been a massive shut down of different businesses, except for those employed in industries considered “essential”. This epidemic has negatively impacted many people across the world. There are some who have been able to find some positives within this experience, such as the ability to work from home or considerations of canceling some student loan debt. But there are people who are often forgotten and not considered, like those located in prisons, jails, halfway houses, quarter-way houses, and other residential communities.

But there are people who are often forgotten and not considered, like those located in prisons, jails, halfway houses…

With a focus on those who are incarcerated, these persons do not have the luxury of practicing social distancing (being 6 feet or more away or being limited to being in spaces with 10 or less people). The privilege of social distancing is nonexistent for those incarcerated due to the  constraints of confinement and the requirement of supervision, including being around staff and others inmates. These conditions make them more susceptible to obtain this virus and likely others diseases. Additionally, we must consider those who may be incarcerated with autoimmune diseases and/or 65 + years old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list the follow person as high risk for obtaining COVID-19 virus:

People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma

People who have serious heart conditions

People who are immunocompromised including cancer treatment

People of any age with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] >40) or certain underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as those with diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease might also be at risk

People who are pregnant

If we couple these issues with incarceration, this population becomes extremely vulnerable. This population is not only vulnerable, but they have limited rights. The first section of the 13th amendment describes slavery as legal only if one is convicted of a crime. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. Incarcerated persons have limitations to their access to basic human rights, LEGALLY. Due to societal stigmas and assumption, it becomes easier for this population to experience excessive hardship, barriers, and/or exploitation.  Exploitation should never be circumstantial. The Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights explore the necessity to release those who pose no danger to the public, but create an increase risk to the public if they remain incarcerated.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime…

CALL TO ACTION:

Use email and/or social media to reach out to your state representatives and governor and express your concerns about those who are incarcerated. Be sure call for fair practices (be specific if possible) and access to basic human rights.

RESOURCE:

Find your state representative

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