A Dialogue on Safe, Supportive and Affordable Housing for People with Justice System Involvement
On October 27th, the Fortune Society, John Jay College’s Prison Re-entry Institute, the Network, and CSH hosted a conference on the obstacles people with criminal justice involvement face trying to access safe, affordable housing and promising practices as to how to overcome them. The sold-out event attracted a deeply engaged audience of 250 people. The Fortune Society’s Stanley Richards, the first formerly incarcerated individual appointed by the City Council to be a member of the NYC Board of Corrections, acted as the host for the day.
The day began with an in-depth conversation about the fundamental values and vision that drive policy related to providing housing and services to justice-involved people. Jerilyn Perine, Executive Director of the Citizens Housing Planning Council, spoke eloquently about the essential connection between decent housing and personal well-being. Ana Oliveira, President of the New York Women’s Foundation, forcefully declared that housing is a human right, fundamental to a person’s dignity and ability to achieve one’s full potential. Anthony Thompson, Professor of Criminal Law at NYU law School, spoke powerfully about the importance of valuing the concept of redemption in creating housing policy for justice involved individuals. This opening conversation was facilitated by Ann Jacobs from PRI.
Other panels focused on the barriers justice-involved individuals face accessing housing as well as promising practices in New York and around the country for addressing those impediments. Panelists in the five subject-specific discussions included experts from advocacy organizations including the Osborne Association, the Vera Institute, and MFY Legal Services; housing providers including the Fortune Society, Housing + Solutions, and Greenhope Services for Women; government agencies including the City’s Human Resources Administration, the State’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the NYS Council on Community Re-entry and Reintegration, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, and the Kings County DA’s Office; as well as research and academic institutions including the Urban Institute and NYU’s Furman Center; as well as, panelists with lived experience. One of the highlights of the panel on translating values into action was civil rights attorney John Relman discussing progress on the Fortune Society’s groundbreaking litigation challenging blanket bans on housing applicants with criminal justice histories. He also spoke eloquently about the role that historical racism has played in mass incarceration policies.
The Network’s Laura Mascuch moderated a panel discussion on successful models for addressing the housing and service needs of justice-involved people from New York and around the country. As part of that panel, Jocelyn Fontaine from the Urban Institute spoke of an innovative program in Ohio in which the Corrections Department is funding supportive housing for disabled homeless individuals exiting prison.
The conference included a series of mini “TED Talks” about several innovative programs and promising practices which included NYCHA’s Family Re-entry Pilot Program, the FUSE initiative, the City’s Justice Involved Supportive Housing (JISH) and Drew House, the nation’s alternative to incarceration program for women with children. Other highlights included Yolanda Johnson-Perkin’s spirited presentation on the NYCHA pilot and Rita Zimmer, Executive Director of Housing + Solutions, tossing “Get out of Jail Free” cards from the Monopoly game to illustrate the importance of providing people with alternatives to incarceration.
There are plans to release a report based on the conference, which the Network will share with our members upon publication.