Activists suggest housing assistance for those released from prison


By CAROLINE BECK, Daily News from Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Alabama – The Alabama Commission on Reintegration heard presentations Tuesday on the need to expand housing assistance for those leaving prison to reduce recidivism.

The state currently does not provide any housing assistance for the majority of people who are released from prison at the end of their sentence.

Group homes or halfway houses that exist in the state typically require immediate payments and costs can range from $ 500 to $ 650 per month. Those who have just been released from prison often do not have a bank account, a job or even an ID, making it impossible to pay up front.

Carla Crowder, executive director of the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, presented her findings to the commission on the reintegration housing already available in the state and how it can be improved.

She said housing is one of the main factors in whether or not someone is sent back to prison.

“It has created a crisis for people who have really prepared themselves on the inside as best they can,” Crowder said. “They took classes, they got out of trouble, they have a chance of being released and unless they have family or several thousand dollars, and most people don’t, it’s almost. impossible to find a safe place to live. “

The commission is responsible for identifying, implementing and promoting policies and strategies to support the successful reintegration of state prisoners into society. Tuesday’s meeting was its fifth meeting of the year and members agreed to hold more meetings beyond their originally scheduled conclusion early next year.

Crowder said about 3,500 people were released from state prisons in 2020 because they had reached the end of their sentences and had not received support or supervision.

There are only a handful of places in the state that offer transitional housing services like Shepherd’s Fold in Birmingham and Renascence in Montgomery. Services offered at facilities vary, but generally include accommodation, food, and transportation to jobs.

Community transitional housing was another suggested method the state could implement, which usually consists of released people living in furnished apartments with their basic necessities paid for by the program.

Georgia has implemented a similar program within its community affairs department and provides six months of housing for those released from prison. Service providers are reimbursed $ 750 per month.

Brandon Johnson, policy director at the Birmingham Mayor’s Office, helps run a reintegration program and told the committee about scenarios of unregulated halfway houses that abuse their occupants financially, physically and sexually.

“You have individuals who are trying to stay free, who are trying to stay on track, but the daily exploitation and degrading circumstances of not having a stable home has forced them to take the wrong path,” Johnson said.

He asked the commission to consider housing as the cornerstone of its reintegration and rehabilitation strategies.

Ronald McKeithen was incarcerated in various Alabama prisons for 37 years and told the commission about his own difficult experiences reintegrating into society, saying everyday skills like driving were something he needed to relearn.

“When guys come out of jail with little education, not used to dealing with people, they’re so lost,” McKeithen said.

In his report, Crowder suggests using about $ 20 million of the state’s allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funding to begin building more housing services for reintegration.

She said the funding could potentially help provide housing for 3,000 to 4,000 people released over a two-year period. Crowder also said the immediate funding would help as the state prepares for further releases in the coming year after a new parole bill is passed in the special session on the construction of prisons.

The bill passed by the legislature last month would increase the number of inmates who could be released before the end of their sentences and placed under the supervision of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Words. It includes an electronic monitoring requirement.

Rebecca Bensema, deputy director of parole rehab for the Alabama Pardons and Parole Office, also told the commission that work continues to create a universal admission portal that allows every state agency. who works with inmates to enter data on needed services.

“So that we can all benefit from the data collected from these systems and recognize where our hot spots are in this state, where our needs are for food or shelter, for the different things that have the greatest impact on the recurrence, “Bensema said. .

The next committee meeting is scheduled for December 7.

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