In response to public outcry about the safety of low-level offenders during this Coronavirus pandemic, thousands of men and women are being released and re-entering our communities from prisons and jails. They face all of the traditional barriers to re-entry and are forced to navigate a world devastated by COVID-19. Financial stability is always a barrier to reentry and the closure of many government offices has compounded the challenges of obtaining the vital documentation necessary to get their lives back on track. Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson hosted a community forum to discuss these challenges and raise awareness about resources available to individuals returning to South Los Angeles neighborhoods.
“Our community has been disproportionately damaged by COVID-19. There should be a disproportionate amount of resources directed here for recovery,” said Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson. “Individuals released from jails may unknowingly carry the coronavirus and risk potentially infecting our community or ending up homeless if they are not connected to services. We need to make sure that their friends, family and our entire community know what’s available and actively help them access the resources they need.”
Gilbert Johnson, Lead Justice Organizer at Community Coalition, began the discussion by sharing his experience with navigating re-entry and discussing what resources he needed to successfully return home, “People need to be connected to treatment and given multiple chances to get it right. I needed treatment and instead I received incarceration,” said Gilbert Johnson. “Community Coalition gave me an opportunity to work and grow and did not hold my background against me. They gave me the opportunity to be the change my community needed. Now, I’m committed to building up everyday leaders to influence change and public policy.”
California has released thousands of men and women into a global health and financial pandemic where many of the safety nets people rely on for successful reentry are unavailable. The Los Angeles County Office of Diversion and Reentry’s DOORS Center joined the forum, along with service providers like A New Way of Life and 2nd Call, to discuss the resources available to people returning home from prisons and jails.
“We had to move quickly to respond to the needs of our population in real time and keep our services accessible during COVID-19,” said Tasha Mcfashion-Stiger of DOORS. “The only way to ensure our brothers and sisters seeking re-entry can be successful is to do it together. We work with dozens of service providers and county departments to connect these people to the wrap around services and the help they need.”
“We help people get into careers in construction, electric and the building trades, ” said Skipp Townsend of 2nd Call. “Most of the people we work with are parolees or ex offenders. The 2nd Call Wolfpack helps people get the community they need and learn how to make healthy choices throughout their lives.”
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic, people are coming out of prisons and jails back to communities that are already hurting,” said Susan Burton, Executive Director of A New Way of Life. “Our communities never had the privilege to shelter in place safely. Whatever I can do, it’s my responsibility to do that to ensure our people have safety and security.”