At the moment, the only experience that seems harder than serving seven years in prison is being free. Yes, you read that correctly. Make no mistake, “gratitude” doesn’t even begin to describe how it feels to be home, reunited with my family. I can finally eat, sleep and bathe when I want.
When we began our journey to rebuild broken urban communities in our city, Jacksonville, Fla., 20 years ago, little did we know that we would become an important part of a powerful national movement — reframing how we look at crime, incarceration and poverty.
The Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention reports that an average of 55% of youth released from incarceration are rearrested within one year of release while reincarceration and reconfinement rates during the same time frame averaged 24%. Juvenile reentry, which is also referred to as aftercare, is defined as the reintegrative services that prepare youth in out-of-home placements for their return home by establishing the necessary collaboration with the community and its resources to ensure the delivery of needed services and supervision.
The transition out of the juvenile justice system has considerable consequences for the transitioning youth, for the neighborhood into which the youth is transitioning and for society more broadly. For youth experiencing homelessness and insecure housing, that transition is particularly challenging. A recent study from Chapin Hall showed that nearly half the nation’s youth who have experienced homelessness have been involved in the justice system and that those without stable housing upon release are more likely to be rearrested.
When Carlos first came to live with us he was about 16. A friend of my son’s, he had a long history of family and housing instability and had been recently kicked out by his mom. As his informal host, I thought I did everything “right.” We already had a strong relationship; I met with his mom, laid out house rules and talked about his plans for the future.
In 2007, I gave someone a second chance. I was in Danbury (Conn.) Federal Correctional Institution recruiting women for a new program for people returning from prison that I was running in New York City.
It’s now been three years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Henry Montgomery should have a chance to earn parole, because he’d been a teenager at the time of his crime. But on Thursday, the Louisiana parole board voted against parole for Montgomery for the second time. So Montgomery, now 72, will remain in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, working five days a week at the prison silk-screen shop, as he has for decades. “I’m almost at a loss for words at how it is possible that Henry, yet again, was denied. One would have thought that he would be one of the first,” said Marsha Levick, chief legal officer of the Juvenile Law Center.