Push for a Vote on Criminal Justice Reform that Includes Affordable Housing
Earlier this year, the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve several criminal justice reform bills. Despite bipartisan support for the bills, House Leadership did not include criminal justice reform on its agenda for September.
However, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) has opened the door for a possible vote on some or all of the bills if he hears from enough Members of Congress.
While it is unclear whether these bills will become law, a House vote would serve as an important first step towards comprehensive criminal justice reform. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) and other leaders are working to ensure that any comprehensive legislation addresses the significant housing needs of formerly incarcerated people.
The United States incarcerates its citizens at a shockingly high rate and nearly one in three Americans has a criminal record. Current laws disproportionately impact people of color and people living in poverty.
As more formerly incarcerated individuals return to their communities, though, there is growing concern about how they will fare upon reentry. Resources, especially for affordable housing, are already scarce in the low-income communities where formerly incarcerated persons typically return.
Because of their criminal records, justice-involved individuals face additional barriers in accessing affordable housing, putting them at risk of homelessness and subsequent recidivism.
On June 24, 2016, NLIHC hosted a congressional forum “Why Housing Matters in Criminal Justice Reform.” Department of Justice (DOJ) Second Chance Fellow Daryl Atkinson provided moving testimony of his own experience transitioning from incarceration to working at DOJ.
While he emphasized that there may not exist a “silver bullet” solution to ensuring reentering persons transition successfully to life after incarceration, he explained that stable housing was crucial in his own reintegration process.
“Imagine if we approached the successful reintegration of the 650,000 people that are released every year, the ten to eleven million that cycle in and out of jails, the 70 million – the one-in-three Americans – who have an arrest or conviction history, imagine if we approach them [as though] they are someone’s person, they’re someone’s son, that they’re someone’s loved one.
That they are part of our American family and we welcome you home because everyone needs to be able to go home. Imagine if we had a policy framework that approached them that way. Imagine if our resources at the federal level supported them and their families that way to welcome them home. I would surmise our outcomes when it comes to reentry would look really, really different.”