Giving Compass’ Take:
• Wanda Bertram encourages policymakers to address amplified hardships affecting formerly incarcerated people during COVID-19.
• How has coronavirus caused homelessness among formerly incarcerated people to rise? What are you doing to support people released from prison equitably and effectively during the pandemic?
The very same obstacles that make it hard for people released from prison to succeed also make it harder to stay safe from the coronavirus. At this moment, where it is well established that depopulating prisons and jails is critical for health and safety on both sides of the walls, it is critical that policymakers focus on the overlooked hardships faced by formerly incarcerated people. We review our research on the struggles of formerly incarcerated people on housing, income and employment, health care, communication, paying burdensome “supervision” fees and more and explain how these challenges are even greater during the pandemic.
As we reported in 2018, people who have been to prison are nearly 10 times more likely to be homeless than members of the public at large. Rates of homelessness, as one would expect, are highest among people released most recently.
Living without a stable home is even more dangerous than usual during a pandemic, when social distancing and hygiene are especially important. What’s more, people who are homeless risk being re-arrested for “quality of life” offenses such as sleeping in parks. Maintaining housing can even be a parole requirement, the violation of which can land someone back in prison.
Shelters and reentry organizations provide a stopgap to the problem of housing after prison. But even during “normal” times, these organizations are direly under-resourced, as we found in a 2019 investigation of reentry service providers for women. And during a pandemic, many of these organizations are bursting at the seams or have shut down entirely due to their funding being suspended. A housing official in Denver, for example, said that the pandemic, combined with mass releases, had turned the local shelter system “on its head.”
Read the full article about formerly incarcerated people during COVID-19 by Wanda Bertram at Prison Policy Initiative.
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