Life in prison is hard. Coming back home shouldn’t be harder.
More than 600,000 people are released from prison every year, which means that many people will be transitioning home from a place where trauma, stress, and other hardships are commonplace. Reentry, as this transitional period is called, comes with huge barriers to housing, employment, and our well-being. We know this because we’ve experienced these hardships ourselves—include the anxiety of knowing that any misstep during this period could have landed us back in prison.
Of the more than 500 reentry facilities in the United States today, most operate under rules that mirror the prison environment, with punishment for minor infractions, abstinence-only policies that do not work, and the constant threat of being sent back to prison. This approach hasn’t worked.
Effective reentry requires that a person be in an environment that is supportive (not stressful), caring (not traumatizing), and where basic needs are met (not deprived). Current reentry housing programs deprioritize these basic human needs in favor of control and authority, and thereby perpetuate cycles of trauma and reincarceration over the long run.
The time is ripe for private and public funders to partner with community-based practitioners and leaders to break these cycles. By enacting a new standard of reentry, we can achieve lasting success. We at The Ahimsa Collective are practitioners of community-based, resident-centered reentry housing and care, and we are formerly incarcerated people with personal experience with these systems. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we run numerous reentry programs, including reentry housing. The aim of this Inquest feature is to share our core values and principles that we have developed over years of personal and professional experience.
When system-impacted people have access to safe housing, material necessities, and a supportive community, they then have the ability to heal, thrive, and build healthy relationships. If the reentry housing across the country were to follow what we like to call a “people-first reentry model,” then many thousands fewer people would return to prison each year, and would instead be on a path to success, agency, human dignity, and connection.