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As California closes prisons, we must protect people who were incarcerated from falling into homelessness

Over the past several years, California has taken steps to address overcrowding in prisons by implementing a series of reforms to reduce prison populations. With approximately 97,000 people currently in the state system, California reduced its prison population by 25% over the last decade, and closed locations to save the state billions in operating and repair expenses. But the closures shed a harsh light on the broken system of support for people struggling to re-enter society after prison.

By repairing the cracks in the system, we can create a path for meaningful recovery and also aid the communities that welcome them home. Assembly Bill 328, introduced by Assembly Members Chiu, Kalra, Quirk-Silva and Wicks, will ensure that the money the state saves by reducing its prison population goes directly to help people who were incarcerated find stable housing upon release. Sounds like common sense, right? It is — here’s why.

After their release, many people who were imprisoned lack stable housing and have no access to employment, education, and life skills services, resulting in an increased chance of recidivism and homelessness. This hits communities of color particularly hard, as Black people and Latinos are overrepresented in prison populations compared to white people. One study concluded that formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public — in California, 70% of people experiencing homelessness have a history of incarceration. 

The Prison Policy Initiative found significantly higher rates of unemployment and homelessness among women who were incarcerated (especially women of color), who are less likely to have a high school education compared to formerly incarcerated men. Without viable housing options and support services, women on parole who were victims of domestic violence often return to abusive households, putting their lives at risk. 

California must earmark funds for programs and staff that help people who were incarcerated break these cycles, and provide much-needed support services to stabilize their lives and realize a better future. AB 328 will redirect savings from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the Reentry Housing Program to house and provide services for people who were incarcerated and experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Another portion will go to other services to help people effectively reenter society. 

Redirecting money as AB 328 proposes will also save money for the state: it costs over $90,000 per year to incarcerate someone in California; providing housing with supportive services costs about $20,000. More than 30,000 people will be released every year for the next five years — a targeted housing program will save taxpayers and the state millions of dollars and prevent thousands from becoming homeless. 

By providing people who are released from prison a safe, decent place to call home, they can focus on learning new skills, resolving health issues, finding and securing work, and ultimately, escaping poverty. California lawmakers and reentry organizations must prioritize housing and provide the services people need so they can successfully reenter society and forge a new life. 

 

 

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