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Boston faces a crisis in community-based reentry

Dmitriy Ivanov, staff writer
Boston faces a crisis in community-based reentry
Steven W. Tompkins

Imagine waking up one day with nothing except a change of clothes, and no money in your pocket. You need a job, but can’t apply because you don’t have a driver’s license, photo ID, or even a Social Security card. You head to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to get an ID, but you don’t have a fixed address, or enough money to pay for it.

It seems that every door is closed to you. Where do you turn?

Andrea J. Campbell

This is the situation most individuals find themselves in upon release from prison. With little or no support coming out of prison, it shouldn’t be surprising that many formerly incarcerated men and women end up in shelters or homeless, and eventually back in the criminal justice system. But, when returning citizens are connected to community-based re-entry services — such as safe housing, a stable job, addiction treatment, mental health care and case management — their likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system is reduced by up to 25 percent.

We have seen firsthand the transformational impacts of community-based reentry programs, from our immediate family members to the men and women returning to their communities post-incarceration. Funding quality reentry programs is a sure way to decrease recidivism, improve public safety in our neighborhoods, and help the formerly incarcerated to rebuild their lives.

Sadly, the availability of these programs and resources have been cut to shreds. In the last 18 months, four programs in Boston that provided community-based reentry services have either closed or scaled back due to loss of funding, including McGrath House, the only residential reentry program specifically for women. Overcoming The Odds, a city, state and community partnership with an exceptional success rate, ended in 2016 after three years of providing housing and case management to high-risk individuals returning to the Boston area. And, now, Brooke House, a 65-bed halfway house in the Fenway, is in jeopardy of closing this June after over 50 years of operation in Boston. Even the Boston Reentry Initiative — a program that has produced a 50 percent drop in recidivism for those deemed 100 percent likely to re-offend — has faced drastic reductions in its scope of services.

Reentry programs depend primarily on federal grants and charitable donations, which can disappear almost overnight. While lawmakers in Massachusetts vocalize a commitment to supporting returning citizens, our state has not substantially invested in residential reentry supports. In fact, the Commonwealth’s $40 billion state budget includes just $90,000 for community-based residential reentry. That’s the roughly the same amount it costs to incarcerate two people in state prison for a year.

We need to do more.

Approximately 3,000 individuals return to Boston from jail or prison each year, and a majority of them will return home to the neighborhoods we represent. They are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and deserve the chance to rebuild their lives with their families here in Boston. But, the door to opportunity cannot be locked.

Earlier this week we teamed up to hold a City Council hearing at the Suffolk County House of Correction to hear directly from those most impacted by these funding cuts: incarcerated and formerly-incarcerated men and women, and the people and organizations that provide them with reentry services.

We are also joining a coalition of advocates, including Community Resources for Justice, to urge the Legislature to dedicate $5 million for community-based residential re-entry. This will provide funding for approximately 450 individuals to begin their reintegration back to the community with a fair shot: a bed to sleep in, help getting a job, health care, counseling and an ID card. By providing connections to housing, employment and recovery services for people who often have difficulty accessing them, we can strengthen our communities and make them safer, heathier and more vibrant for all of us.

Andrea J. Campbell is president of the Boston City Council, Steven W. Tompkins is sheriff of Suffolk County, and John Larivee is CEO of Community Resources for Justice.