Op-ed: Massachusetts Faces Crisis in Community Based Reentry

By Rep. Liz Malia and John Larivee

Community residents, advocates and legislators worked hard on passing a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill this spring.   The goal of the bill is to divert more people into treatment instead of prison, make jails more humane, and reduce recidivism.

The vast majority of people in prison will someday be released into the community, and as it stands today, too many of them end up in shelters or on the streets. About 3,000 individuals are released from Massachusetts prisons each year. Community-based reentry services that provide the building blocks for a new life outside prison walls are the best deterrent to reoffending, but the availability of these programs and resources have been cut to shreds. We need to change that.

In the last 18 months, four programs that provided community-based reentry services have either closed or scaled back due to loss of funding. And now Brooke House, a 65 bed halfway house in the Boston, is in jeopardy of closing this June after operating for over 50 years.

  • Span Inc. closed in August 2017 after over 40 years of providing community case management and substance abuse services to citizens returning from incarceration to the Boston area.
  • Overcoming the Odds, a city, state, and community partnership, ended in 2016 after 3 years of providing housing and case management to high-risk individuals returning to the Boston area.
  • The Boston Reentry Initiative reduced its scope in 2016 after 16 years of operation.
  • McGrath House, the only residential reentry program specifically for women, is closing in 2018.

Reentry services provided inside prison walls are a great start, but they simply aren’t enough. Support, guidance, and accountability when someone is in the community, facing the stresses of starting a new life is where the rubber meets the road, and it’s where our emphasis needs to be.

Community-based residential reentry services provide safe housing, workforce development, and case management that builds connections and stability for returning citizens. Post-release supervision in a halfway house utilizing evidence-based programming reduces recidivism by up to 25 percent for high-risk individuals.

While the importance of community based re-entry services are widely recognized, Massachusetts has not 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.

For our criminal justice reform efforts to be successful, we must invest in community based re-entry services. A coalition of advocates is urging the Legislature to dedicate $3 million in the next fiscal year 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. By providing connections to housing and employment for people who often have difficulty accessing them, we can strengthen our communities and make them safer for all of us.

As we move to implement criminal justice reform in Massachusetts, we need to make sure more men and women who’ve served their time in prison get the support they need to never go back. Please join us in supporting a real investment in community-based residential reentry.

John J. Larivee is President & CEO of Community Resources for Justice.  Rep. Liz Malia is the State Representative for the 11th Suffolk District.

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