The Fortune News: December 2017 - Policy and Advocacy

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The Fortune Society


THE FORTUNE NEWS A publication from The Fortune Society, printed twice a year to inform the public of the work and impact of Fortune’s reentry services and advocacy efforts.







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OUR MISSION Learn about our mission, programs, and services EYE ON FORTUNE Key events in 2017

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Letters from individuals who are currently incarcerated POLICY AND ADVOCACY AT FORTUNE Initiatives spearheaded by our David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP)

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DEAR SELF A letter of self-encouragement



I AM JUST LIKE MY FATHER A tribute to David Rothenberg


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A FAIR CHANCE AT OPPORTUNITY Advancing policies that increase truly fair opportunities for people with justice involvement PARTNERSHIP AND TRUST Tools of participatory giving

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BUILDING AN EQUITABLE AND CONSCIONABLE JUSTICE SYSTEM Leveraging the experiences of Fortune participants to reform the justice system FACES OF FORTUNE Staff, volunteers, and participant experiences LIFELINES OF SUPPORT Corresponding with individuals who are incarcerated THE POWER OF SUPPORT How we supported Howard Harris in his successful reentry into the community MOVING BEYOND TRAUMA How Jeffrey Batten moved beyond his past toward a better future

CCA BREAKS GROUND ON FREEDOM COMMONS Replicating our successful housing model FIGHTING FOR IMMIGRANTS WITH CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS A partnership to help immigrant families stay together MAINTAINING HEALTH WHILE INCARCERATED Advocacy tips for maintaining health in prison


COALITION OF REENTRY ADVOCATES UNDERSTANDING THE EXPERIENCE Advocating to change the justice OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE DEBT system Harmful consequences of Criminal Justice Financial Obligations (CJFOs) VOLUME L • DECEMBER 2017




The Fortune Society’s mission is to support successful reentry from incarceration and promote alternatives to incarceration, thus strengthening the fabric of our communities.

Prepare for Release

We do this by: Believing in the power of individuals to change; Building lives through service programs shaped by the needs and experiences of our participants; and

The Individualized Corrections Achievement Network (I-CAN) program provides skill-building and discharge preparation services to eligible individuals during their incarceration at NYC Department of Corrections (DOC) jails, and offers continuing reentry support following their release.

Health Services

Changing minds through education and advocacy to promote the creation of a fair, humane, and truly rehabilitative correctional system.

The Health Services program connects individuals with justice involvement and chronic conditions to quality healthcare and social services. We also provide individuals living with HIV/AIDS with vital discharge planning, case management, health education, and connection to quality, community-based treatment and care.

Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) The ATI program reduces the prison and jail population, helps thousands of individuals receive holistic, supportive services, and saves taxpayers millions of dollars. 1


Benefits Application Assistance


The Benefits Application Assistance program helps participants achieve economic mobility by coordinating access to public benefits available to individuals and families with low incomes, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, Supplemental Disability Insurance, and other forms of public assistance.

The Education program empowers students to achieve personal and professional goals, such as acquiring basic literacy skills, earning a High School Equivalency diploma, attending college, or preparing for employment.

Food and Nutrition

The Family Services program works to unite participants with their loved ones by facilitating healthy parent-child relationships, and providing legal services for custody, visitation, and child support commitments.

We offer healthy, hot meals, and distribute fresh, locally grown produce to participants through partnerships with local farms. Through the Food and Nutrition program, we also offer cooking demonstrations and nutrition education workshops.

Housing The Fortune Society Housing program assists individuals with justice involvement and their families experiencing homelessness in building better futures through supportive and affordable housing. The program provides low-threshold access to emergency, transitional, and permanent housing in our congregate buildings: The Fortune Academy (“the Castle”) and Castle Gardens, along with our Scatter-Site housing program.

Employment Services

Family Services

Mental Health Treatment Fortune participants have access to a full spectrum of services through our NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH)-licensed Better Living Center (BLC), which serves individuals with mental health needs and histories of justice involvement.

Substance Use Treatment Our New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)-licensed outpatient substance use treatment clinic empowers people with substance use histories to heal and recover from addiction or the trauma of incarceration.

Creative Arts

The Employment Services program is designed to equip job seekers with justice involvement with the skills necessary to obtain employment and thrive in the workplace. The program offers job readiness, transitional work, and sector-based skills trainings in Green Construction, Culinary Arts, Job Development, and Transportation (Commercial Drivers License acquirement). We also offer job placement assistance and retention services.

The Creative Arts program supports the educational, emotional, and cultural development of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system through creative writing, poetry, spoken word, video production, animation, visual arts, music, and theater.

THE DAVID ROTHENBERG CENTER FOR PUBLIC POLICY In honor of our founder’s tireless efforts to promote the rights and fair treatment of people with justice involvement, Fortune launched The David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) in 2007. DRCPP resources and advances our policy development, advocacy, technical assistance, training, research, and community education efforts. Additionally, it works to build an equitable and conscionable criminal justice system, change counterproductive laws and policies, and promote effective program models for people with criminal justice histories.




If you ask David Rothenberg about his legacy, his response will be something along the lines of, “I only did what I felt was right.” Of course, looking back fifty years since the founding of The Fortune Society, we know that what he thought was just “right” in 1967 was actually radical— advocating for people with justice histories to be treated fairly. Today, David remains a fierce and staunch advocate for not only criminal justice reform, but many other social issues plaguing some of our society’s most marginalized communities. 3

For me, conversations with David lead to rich lessons in history, pop culture, tenaciousness, fearlessness, and perseverance. One of our first chats centered around him articulating how he founded Fortune. He tells the story in a way that will never get old. It envelops you every time. Working at The Fortune Society, specifically in the policy center named after David, is priceless. He still volunteers with the organization, providing guidance, advice, and historical context as we continue to pursue change. While Fortune has developed a strong reputation in the human services field,


we must not forget our roots, which are deeply grounded in advocacy. To that extent, in October 2007, the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) was founded by Glenn Martin, a formerly incarcerated leader who worked to allocate resources and full-time staff devoted to furthering Fortune’s legacy in advocacy. Since then, DRCPP has tackled numerous counterproductive laws and policies hindering reentry for individuals with justice involvement. Some of our notable policy reform achievements include: Passing the Drop the Rock reforms, an effort to dismantle

New York’s strict Rockefeller Drug Laws, which imposed severe mandatory minimum sentences on those convicted of drug-related infractions; Advocating to end Stop, Question, and Frisk, a controversial policy by the New York Police Department of detaining and searching New Yorkers, primarily within Black and Latino communities; Campaigning to Ban the Box, which led to policy reforms that prohibit employers and State University of New York (SUNY) educational institutions from asking for an applicant’s criminal history prior to a job offer or admittance; Helping to Raise the Age, legislation passed by the New York State Legislature that increases the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years of age; Banning Solitary Confinement in Rikers Island jail complex for 16- to 18-year-olds, and ending punitive solitary confinement for people under age 21; Spearheading litigation against Sandcastle Towers Housing Development, which led to the U.S. Department of Justice to issue a statement arguing that the Fair Housing Act requires that landlords considering criminal records in evaluating prospective tenants must not use overly broad generalizations; Pushing the New York State Homes and Community Renewal to no longer permit New York state-financed affordable housing providers to exclude applicants based on their criminal history; and

Challenging the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to create new pathways to lift Permanent Exclusions, policies which prevented people with justice involvement from entering or residing in public housing. DRCPP leverages Fortune’s expertise in direct service and the personal experiences of its participants and staff to advocate for an equitable and conscionable criminal justice system, change counterproductive laws and policies, and promote effective program models for people with criminal justice histories. One of the greatest challenges we face in achieving our mission is the discrimination against the people we serve, long after their involvement with the justice system ends. Stigmatization continues to prevent individuals with justice histories from fully contributing to positive growth within their communities, but these individuals are not rarities. In fact, between 70 million and 100 million—or as many as one in three Americans—have some type of criminal record (Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, Survey of State Criminal History Information Systems, 2012). Meanwhile, there are 45,000 documented collateral consequences VOLUME L • DECEMBER 2017

codified in state and federal laws designed to perpetually punish a person with justice involvement (Federal Interagency Reentry Council: Collateral Consequences, August 2015). It is only through advocacy and community education that we can create the systemic reform needed within the criminal justice system to meet the long-term needs of these individuals in meaningful and lasting ways. Today, I am fortunate to be charged with the task of continuing DRCPP’s legacy, standing on the shoulders of all who came before me and reinforcing the foundation for the leaders to come. As the Associate Vice President of Policy, I plan to continue the collective efforts of previous DRCPP leaders while allowing my own personal and professional experience to influence and guide the Center’s priorities and strategies. I am excited to work alongside and on behalf of individuals who have the most to lose, and therefore the most to gain, from the advocacy efforts produced by the DRCPP. I encourage you to reach out to me and share your thoughts and experiences. 




Over 100 youth, advocates, community members, elected officials, and philanthropists came together for our #Justice4All summit, which featured powerful speeches, amazing performances, and thoughtful discussions about justice inequality. The day-long event, was a collaboration with the Ford Foundation and the Center for Justice at Columbia University, explored the ways young leaders can help build safer communities, improve accountability and transparency with police, and confront injustices and abuses of power. 

In honor of World AIDS Day, interns at our David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) raised HIV/ AIDS awareness among staff and participants at our Queens and Harlem locations by providing educational resources, HIV and HEP C testing for over 40 people, and hosting a presentation by NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 


SOCIAL JUSTICE & HEALTH EQUITY SYMPOSIUM DECEMBER 4, 2017 With the support of the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and Kaiser Permanente Thrive, we held an interactive symposium that explored methods of providing holistic and compassionate healthcare for people with justice involvement living with HIV/AIDS. The event featured dynamic speakers, engaging exercises, and next steps for 2018. 


Over 400 people attended our 50th Anniversary Gala, where we raised a record $816,000 in funds to support our reentry services and advocacy efforts. We also honored our founder, David Rothenberg, with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and celebrated the extraordinary accomplishments of Mark Lebow and Khalil Gibran Muhammad. Plus, we heard from two Fortune participants who thrived in recent internships and are now building their dream careers. With musical performances by Thos Shipley and Christine Ebersole to open and close the program, it was a moving and memorable night. 




CAMILLA BRODERICK Volunteer When I was incarcerated on Rikers Island, participating on the debate team was one of the few activities I enjoyed. Now, I’m giving back by using my experience to coach debate at The Fortune Society. I started at Fortune as an intern under the Rikers Debate Project, and currently teach debate classes every Tuesday night. We discuss relevant topics that directly impact those at Fortune–such as legalization of marijuana and closing Rikers– to raise consciousness and civic engagement among the students. While many come to the program without prior experience or interest in debate, they often become invested in the classes and enjoy sharing their opinions. As I was also formerly incarcerated, a lot of students can connect with me, and view me as a role model. The Fortune Society does a great job of giving people with justice involvement a chance to succeed. Discrimination and stigma in society make it difficult for many of us to obtain jobs, housing, and benefits. But not everyone who goes to prison wants to continue engaging in negative behavior. A lot of people at Fortune are very young—they have a chance to turn everything around. I was able to take a bad experience and turn it into something positive: I’m currently a college student, and am considering attending law school. Debate taught me how to argue things concisely and eloquently, and has helped me put my life back on track. I hope it will help those at Fortune do the same. 

I’ve experienced firsthand how unjust the justice system is in this country, and have seen its disproportionate impact on minority communities. I began interning at Fortune with the aim of using my position as a white male to work on bettering this flawed system. For me, this is an issue about life – it’s about treating people like people, and giving them a fair chance. For the past two summers, I’ve worked in the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP), primarily on housing, HIV, and veterans’ advocacy issues. Working closely with other interns, I helped organize a focus group and survey, planned awareness events and discussions, and worked on advancing the Center’s policy initiatives. During this time at Fortune, I learned a lot about policy change and advocacy, but the most meaningful moments were the times when I was able to really talk to people and learn their stories. I think what makes Fortune special—not only as a non-profit, but also in the world of criminal justice and activism—is that so many of Fortune’s staff have had personal justice system involvement. People at Fortune can often draw from personal experiences to inform their direct service or advocacy work, and that ability to connect on a professional and personal level is invaluable. It’s astonishing how much people care at Fortune. Fortune really provides an outlet for people. It offers a space to vent issues and frustrations about the justice system, but also provides guidance on how to use those experiences to move forward and become successful, gain employment, and have sustainable housing. Fortune impacts people and families, and that, in turn, impacts communities. 



LETTERS TO THE EDITOR KINDNESS You can’t “correct” [incarcerated people] or help them “correct” themselves by creating cold, impersonal environments which focus, at best, on skills and training rather than on basic, human-to-human interactions. When we put somebody back out on the streets, we have to hope he or she is a more caring human being. You can’t train or educate a sense of caring. It has to be shown in the environment itself and in the way you do everything. You’re sending absurd mixed messages out to [incarcerated people]. In some places, you call them “Mister” which, according to the outside world, is a term of respect, but in prison it seems instead to be a reminder that you don’t want to be personal/friendly. You insist the guards be called “correctional officer” or “sir/ma’am,” but forbid them to form a friendship with [incarcerated people]. You say you want [incarcerated individuals] to develop stronger social values, but forbid best friends, family, loved ones from staying in touch with each other when one gets transferred, or paroled. You claim to encourage sensible planning, reliability, yet you maintain an atmosphere in which [incarcerated people] can be transferred to a new location without warning or close to family, loved ones, or friends. Lose his job, all his prized possessions in a shakedown with no explanations, apologies, or negotiation on compensation. You expect [incarcerated people] to be responsible, yet while they’re inside, a bell, whistle, defines every moment of their lives. You claim to encourage future social decency among your [incarcerated people] yet you maintain an environment in which it’s dangerous to speak out, help a friend in need, or show one’s true feeling about anything. [Incarcerated individuals] can truly change for the most part, despite your systems/ways. Why are you so resistant to change? Why do you remain difficult? It’s bad for you, bad for your staff/ officers, bad for the people you hope to “correct.” If you won’t change, then it’s up to your staff/officers to wise up, make you change bit by bit, by expressing true kindness, common sense, abiding by the spirit of your rules rather than the letter of them. It’s time for society to let the public know what is going on behind these walls for real. There is absolutely no conflict between running a kind facility and running a secure one. Kindness is an attitude which can underline even the strictest rules of custody. You can express kindness, fairness, and agreement at a facility, which maintains nononsense policies about escape, contraband, and general 7

inmate behavior. Majority of prison inmates would love the opportunity to turn their lives around for the better. It’s time you The System, open your heart, instead of treating your programs/specialists like nuisances or token legal requirements. Change is inevitable; this system doesn’t work! Why be dragged into the change (kicking/screaming)? Steven Wilkinson SCI Fayette Box 9999 Labelle, PA 15450

WRITE TO STAY FREE If I could say anything to a poet, writer, singer, or musician, free from prison, I would say “WRITE!” Write to stay free, write to breathe, write to lie, and write until you die. I write today in hope that I may have a voice tomorrow. So I share a piece of poetry that I wrote for no specific design, but to write. I pray that in sharing it with you that it may inspire those with a pen positioned over a blank page or a blank line will fill the void with whatever the soul emits:

Today’s Effort My heart is crumbling into dust, Not pieces, There is no reconstructing the damage I’m bleeding, I want redemption for penance, and a fool seeks designer forgiveness, Hope is all I have, and it’s a fine thread from Heaven, Despair is a razor rendering the cord unwoven. Borrowed time with an impossible interest rate, In fear of having the loan called in. I grow weary from all of this, I’m going to sleep. Perhaps Tomorrow I’ll try again. James W.B. Jackson Polunsky Unit 3872 FM 350 South Livingston, TX 77351



BY CARL DUKES Correspondence Liaison The Fortune Society

I’m the Correspondence Liaison at Fortune. I work with Sam Davis, the Correspondence Assistant, to manage all correspondence from individuals who are incarcerated across the United States. We answer all requests for information that Fortune receives from these individuals, plus any subsequent responses. Daily, we offer each person the opportunity to learn more about the organization’s advocacy initiatives and services, which are available to all individuals who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.

I’ve been managing Fortune’s correspondence with individuals who are incarcerated since 2009. I’m proud to say that I’ve helped improve Fortune’s communications process greatly—as part of my role, I research specific lawyers, housing providers, and reentry programs available in areas where individuals who are incarcerated reside and will eventually return home. That way, each person who writes to us can obtain detailed information tailored to their needs. Doing this has helped many people increase their chances of a successful reentry back into the community. Sam and I respond to hundreds of letters each year. Plus, we’re responsible for managing the distribution of Fortune’s print VOLUME L • DECEMBER 2017

publication, The Fortune News, to individuals who are incarcerated throughout the United States. The publication is produced biannually and sent out to over 3,000 individuals. As one of the only publications that many incarcerated individuals are allowed to receive, this is an extremely important role. Sam and I are honored to be lifelines of support to individuals who need Fortune’s help the most. If you or anyone you know would like to be added to The Fortune News subscription list, please write to The Fortune Society at 29-76 Northern Boulevard, Long Island City, NY 11101 or email us at 


POLICY & ADVOCACY AT THE FORTUNE SOCIETY The David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) draws upon expertise from three primary sources: 1. The voices of formerly incarcerated individuals, leveraging their direct experience as they personally understand the realities of the criminal justice system. 2. The Fortune Society’s 50 years of experience providing a broad array of services, advocacy, and outreach to people with criminal histories, including the development of models that have received national recognition. 3. Best practices and research from the social and criminal justice fields to shape our advocacy, research, and community education work. DRCPP’s policy and advocacy efforts aim to advance our mission and leverage our internal expertise to advocate for an equitable and conscionable justice system, promote effective program models for people with criminal justice histories, and change counterproductive laws and policies that prevent this population from successfully reentering the community. Our initiatives include: 9

SECURING SAFE, AFFORDABLE HOUSING For individuals returning to the community after incarceration, securing safe and affordable housing is vital to successful reentry. Due to societal stigmas and discriminatory housing policies, however, this can be an enormous challenge. Many find that their criminal record prevents them from obtaining or returning to housing, in both the private sector and publicly supported residential areas.


DRCPP aims to eradicate counterproductive, discriminatory, and unfair statutory and practical barriers to housing for people with criminal records. Examples of our efforts include: 1. Participating in coalitions working toward solutions on issues like the improvement of Three-Quarter Housing oversight/regulation and NYCHA Permanent Exclusion policies. 2. Providing technical assistance to replicate the Fortune Academy, a national model of combined reentry and affordable housing. The Fortune Academy provides both emergency and transitional housing to justiceinvolved individuals experiencing homelessness. 3. Taking direct action by filing a federal lawsuit against the Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund. Through community education, policy reform advocacy, and direct services, we have helped thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals find homes, and are raising public awareness about the barriers that many still face.

Furthermore, some colleges and universities have yet to remove discriminatory policies that screen individuals based on criminal background. As part of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, the New York Reentry Education Network, the New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy (NYCCAL), and the Committee on Corrections and Community Reentry, DRCPP works to propose policy recommendations that increase justiceinvolved individuals’ access to education and prohibit blanket policies against college applicants with criminal records.

FAIR CHANCE AT EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES “Ban the Box” refers to a policy that prohibits unreasonable discrimination against individuals with a criminal record. Through they vary by jurisdiction, Ban the Box policies delay the time that prospective employers are allowed to ask questions about an applicant’s conviction history, giving people with criminal histories a fairer chance at being hired. In New York City, the Fair Chance Act now prohibits prospective employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history prior to extending a conditional job offer. The implementation of these policies presents important questions: Are they producing the intended results? Are more employers hiring people with justice involvement? Are employers finding ways to avoid adhering to the policies? To answer these questions and more, we are gathering data as part of a groundbreaking research study with two main objectives: (1) to examine the hiring practices of New York City agencies in the context of Ban the Box; and (2) to document employer perspectives on Ban the Box. Although Ban the Box does not mandate employers to hire individuals with criminal records, we hope that it is an important method of reducing illegal discrimination.


ACCESS TO EDUCATION Increasing access to educational opportunities for people incarcerated or impacted by the criminal justice system is an investment that yields long-term benefits for all. Prisonbased colleges and post-incarceration programs foster supportive learning communities, promote reductions in the likelihood of recidivism, and allow students to make educational gains that lead to a brighter future. Still, despite the success of these programs, public funding has mostly been unavailable, except on a pilot basis. This is largely due to federal and state policymakers’ misguided spending cuts and counterproductive “tough on crime” policies.

In the United States, people owe local, state, and federal governments billions of dollars in unpaid debt related to contact with the criminal justice system. This debt stems from a system of Criminal Justice Financial Obligations (CJFOs) that is complex, vast, and growing. The consequences for non-payment in New York can result in incarceration, parole being extended or revoked, a civil judgment (which is public information), liens, wage/bank account garnishing, tax rebate interception, driver’s license suspension, business license revocation, suspension, or denial of renewal, or any combination thereof. New York State has more than 120



CJFO-related statutes, a significant number of which are mandatory and cannot be waived by judges for inability to pay. While the issue of fines, fees, and their deleterious effects on individuals and communities is starting to emerge in national discourse, to truly advance sound policy in this domain, we need to understand the personal realities of having criminal justice debt. To that end, we partnered with a researcher from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY to answer the following questions: (1) what is the experience of having criminal justice debt? (2) how does criminal justice debt affect family relations? (3) what is the relationship between criminal justice debt and successful reentry? Gaining intimate knowledge of the role that criminal justice debt plays in our participants’ lives is an important first step in reversing the policies that cause it. With a coalition of advocates called CORA: Coalition of Reentry Advocates, DRCPP engages in advocacy efforts to change laws and policies, in order to ensure that people who have had contact with the criminal justice system have a fair chance to succeed as full community members with a coalition of advocates called CORA: Coalition of Reentry Advocates.

PROMOTING ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION (ATI) ATI (Alternatives to Incarceration) programs reduce New York’s jail and prison populations, and improve the general well-being of its communities. Instead of sentencing an individual to jail or prison time, ATI programs allow a judge to mandate them to a program devoted to education, employment training, and other supportive services, all while the individual remains under court supervision. Studies show that ATI programs save taxpayers significant money when compared to incarceration, and successfully treat people in the community without compromising public safety. ATI programs address an individual’s unique needs, including substance abuse and mental health, while enhancing their quality of life and reducing the likelihood of further justice involvement. We are a longstanding ATI service provider in New York City, with a robust court advocacy presence for active and potential ATI participants in Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn courthouses. Additionally, our David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) is an active member of the ATI/Reentry Coalition, which reduces crime, strengthens families, and brings hope and opportunity to the city’s communities through a full spectrum of services for individuals with justice involvement. As an ATI/Reentry Coalition member, DRCPP fights to expand ATI programs 11

and increase the number of city and state resources invested in them. They do this work by meeting with city council members and state legislators, participating in action days and rallies, and sharing information about the impact of ATI programs with other community stakeholders.

SUPPORTING CULTURALLY COMPETENT HEALTHCARE As one of NYC’s largest providers of reentry services, our Reentry Education Project (REP) supports healthcare providers in integrating culturally responsive and sensitive best practices into HIV and Hepatitis C prevention, treatment, and care delivery to patients who are justiceinvolved and living within underserved neighborhoods. The project objectives include increasing the number of formerly incarcerated people who know their HIV status; reducing the barriers that formerly incarcerated individuals face in accessing HIV prevention, treatment, and care; and increasing retention in care and viral suppression, thereby reducing new transmission. To accomplish these objectives, REP has focused on increasing provider knowledge of harm reduction strategies to reduce HIV transmission among injection drug users; patient-centered, gender-responsive, and trauma-informed care for formerly incarcerated women; and HIV and Hepatitis C (HCV) prevention, screening, treatment, and care for justice-involved individuals.

FOSTERING THE LEADERS OF TOMORROW An overwhelming number of young people feel disenfranchised within an unjust system that is seemingly stacked against them. Understandably, these individuals have come to believe that their voices do not matter, and that they are powerless to shape the world in which they live. Additionally, many lack essential knowledge and skills needed to develop and implement policy initiatives that can instill lasting change in communities most impacted by incarceration. To change this, The Fortune Society created advocacy internships that train and engage a core group of young adults impacted by the justice system, providing them with tools to grow as visible leaders in the movement for ending mass incarceration and promoting alternatives to incarceration. FOR MORE I N F O R M AT I O N ABOUT DRCPP, please contact Khalil Cumberbatch at, or call 347.510.3665. 


THE POWER OF SUPPORT BY HOWARD HARRIS Court Report Writer The Fortune Society

We don’t know what the future will hold. That’s why a supportive community like Fortune is so important—they’re a helping hand to buffer the unpredictable. I was incarcerated for 25 years, and could not predict what I was going to face when released. We now live in a computer age, something I was not used to. But thanks to Fortune, I learned. One year after my release, I’m still on a successful path as a full-time court report writer with the organization. Unfortunately, for other individuals with justice involvement histories, the future is still filled with too many uncertainties. Barriers to housing, employment, and education continue to make reentry a challenge. Today, I’m dedicated to helping change this narrative through the work I do. Not only is it a contribution to ongoing criminal justice reform efforts, it’s my way of making amends with past mistakes. Today, I just want to be the best person that I can be, and help others be the same.

for supportive policies that impact them. A key first step is making more veterans aware of what benefits and resources are available to them. Until I

to other agencies that can get them the best help they need. Fortune is truly all-embracing.

Whether it’s a person coming home from prison or working to stay out of prison through a I especially know how program like Alternatives difficult it is for veterans “When a veteran comes to Fortune, they to Incarceration (ATI), with justice involvement are not only offered in-house services, but the public at-large has to find a successful path are also connected to other agencies that to know that this type to reentry—I’m a veteran of support is vital and can get them the best help they need.” myself. Since we’re benefits all. Individuals taught to stand firm, back with justice involvement to back with fellow soldiers, we’re came to Fortune, I didn’t know all that are not monsters—we’re human often hesitant to trust people outside was out there. Now, I receive veteran beings, and could even be your of our circle. But in partnership with entitlements, and am connected to a next-door neighbor. By supporting organizations like NYC Veterans support network with the Veterans systems of holistic care for us—one Alliance, Fortune is working to build Association of America. I know that helps us transition to a positive trust with veterans in need of care and, firsthand: When a veteran comes to and productive life—you help create through the David Rothenberg Center Fortune, they are not only offered ina community where all can thrive.  for Public Policy (DRCPP), advocate house services, but are also connected VOLUME L • DECEMBER 2017



BY A FORTUNE PARTICIPANT DRCPP Advocacy Apprentice The Fortune Society

You’ve had it very hard in life. I cry for the young man in you who suffered so much. From incarceration to neardeath experiences, it was never easy. I wish you were given more love, because the lack of it damaged the way you look at the world. But you have always picked yourself up and tried again, even if it resulted in the same outcome. You are a true warrior, and have never given up the good fight.

You’ve lived your life in stages, and each experience has helped you catapult to the next stage. From completing culinary school to now going to nursing school, you have learned a lot. And you have two beautiful children, who have blessed you with two grandbabies. In spite of the hardships within these thirty years, they are some of the blessings to be thankful for.

I remember the first time you went to jail. Upon sentencing, the judge said to you, “I can’t let this crime go unpunished.” Those words have rung in your head for over thirty years. At that moment, your whole life changed—you were considered “a convict.” That very first experience with incarceration was Now, it’s time to start a profound for you. It was “You have always picked yourself up wish list for the next thirty very scary and emotional. years. One of the wishes is It felt like the Universe had and tried again, even if it resulted in the to complete nursing school. given up on you. You lost same outcome. You are a true warrior...” Another is to relocate to all hope in yourself. an environment where you One thing I wish I could have helped can thrive again and start anew. Thirty years later, you’re finally you with, though, is patience. Being finding freedom from your past. It Self, I’ll always be praying for you. It impatient has brought you so much has taken thirty years to be able to seems like that has helped you a lot. hardship. But in spite of this, you’re tell yourself that the path you’re on still an awesome man who always Remember: Keep fighting the good is a good one. I wish you had the stays teachable. Never give up this fight. And good luck to you.  mindset you have now when you were essential trait—it will help you in younger—you wouldn’t have had to many ways. bump your head as many times.




While incarcerated, I was not good to myself for a very long time. Living in the shadow of the crime I committed, I was ashamed of who I was, and that was a painful feeling. You see yourself one way, then wake up with the realization that you’ve done something totally contradictory to that view. As a result, I suffered reoccurring nightmares; there were days I really thought I was losing my mind. I later realized that I was traumatized.

You have to forgive yourself. Helping those she works with discover this, then heal and succeed, had helped her move beyond her own painful history.

raise awareness around the barriers that can keep individuals with justice involvement histories and HIV or AIDS from living their fullest lives. My crime was traumatizing me. This includes post-traumatic stress Though I’d never met her, I felt like disorder (PTSD), homelessness, I came to Fortune in April 2017, she was talking to me. I hadn’t heard housing discrimination, discriminative and began staying at The Fortune anyone speak about trauma before. medical malpractice, unemployment, Academy (also known as “the For the first time, I was able to name and more. Education is essential Castle”), their transitional to dismantling these housing development “The DRCPP internship program increased obstacles. in West Harlem. Three weeks into my stay, my my self-esteem, and provides newfound I believe in the work counselor told me about confidence that is inherent to doing work I do. The DRCPP an internship opportunity internship program that matters. By advocating for others, I’ve with Fortune’s David increased my selfRothenberg Center for learned how to better advocate for myself. ” esteem, and provides Public Policy (DRCPP). newfound confidence I applied and became an advocacy what I was experiencing. Listening that is inherent to doing work that apprentice, advocating for individuals to that interview changed my life. matters. By advocating for others, with justice involvement living with I’ve learned how to better advocate HIV or AIDS. Prison is, in itself, a traumatizing for myself. My hope is to one day place, yet it’s often trauma that brings take our work around the country. One of my first assignments was to people there. Life after incarceration I want to travel and give seminars transcribe an interview with a case can be just as difficult—social stigmas to more people living with HIV or manager who, similar to myself, make it extremely difficult to move AIDS and struggling with life after had come to Fortune through her forward. Discrimination in housing, incarceration. I want to be a guide for history of justice involvement and education, and employment because people navigating the same barriers found employment thereafter. In the of justice involvement experience not that I was confronted with. I want to interview, she talked about the effects only prevents people from achieving help them thrive. of trauma on people reentering their stability, it prolongs shame. communities, and spoke about her Like the case manager in the interview own struggle with it. Trauma, she Part of my work with DRCPP is to I transcribed, I want to help others said, is a sickness. To overcome it, you break down these prejudices through move beyond their past and enter into have to come to terms with your past. education. I help organize events that a new, brighter future.  VOLUME L • DECEMBER 2017


I AM JUST LIKE MY FATHER: A TRIBUTE TO DAVID ROTHENBERG heart, and not just a willingness but a determination to fight for others. My biological father left when I was two years old, but David has stepped up to fill that parental role. He is there when I have a problem, always has advice that comes from his heart, and is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. Twelve years ago, David started a conversation with me, and I am happy to say we have been talking ever since.

BY CASIMIRO TORRES Superintendant The Fortune Society

David Rothenberg and The Fortune Society didn’t just save my life, but taught me to save my own. And most importantly, they taught me the value of saving others.

would always come to me either in a prison cell or a crack house, or maybe during those cold nights I spent on the subway. As small and pathetic as it may have been, it was my identity, or at least who I thought I was. It wasn’t until I was 38 that I finally met my father. Of course, I had no idea he was my father at the time. Even so, there was something about him that drew me to him right away. I began to observe him, listen to him, and, more importantly, I began to talk to him. There is something about him that speaks of kindness, a noble heart, and not just a willingness but a determination to fight for others. Amazing. Secretly, this is how I have always wanted others to see me and always who I wanted to be!

When I arrived at The Fortune Society To express my gratitude for his in 2005, my hands were empty but life-changing guidance, I wrote the I carried a lot of baggage. I was a following letter to David Rothenberg: stressed, depressed, suicidal child, and But all I knew of my biological by the age of ten, had become dependent on drugs and “David Rothenberg and The Fortune father was bad, and I just couldn’t shake that. Besides, I alcohol to temper my reality. Society didn’t just save my life, but wanted an identity so bad that From there, I went on to I took whatever I could, even taught me to save my own. And spend much of my childhood in juvenile institutions and 16 most importantly, they taught me if it was bad, all while reading my Superman comic books and years in prison. After a lifetime the value of saving others.” asking God for help. of being lied to, abused, and abandoned, I honestly did not Today, my father has the noble spirit of have much hope that I would find I have often wondered what kind Superman and the kindness of a saint. decent people in this world. of man my father was and what he My father is not tall like me nor do I looked like. He left when I was two Then I came to The Fortune Academy, have “his eyes.” My father is a little, years old, and as hard as I may try, Fortune’s Emergency and Transitional old Jewish man who wears glasses I cannot remember what he looked Supportive Housing Program. There, and funny shirts. like. Sometimes I look in the mirror at 38 years old, I finally found a and wonder: do I look like him? Have community of individuals like me My father has taught me many things. you ever heard someone say, “You’re that were willing to provide support He taught me that I am not the worst going to be tall just like your father” and help without judgment. I also met thing I have ever done. or “You have your father’s eyes”? The Fortune Society’s founder, David Well, nobody has ever said that to me. He has told me that I am a good man, Rothenberg – a man I now proudly a kind man, and even noble at times. call my father. After all the years I have spent in prison and doing bad things, I I am just like my father.  I didn’t know who David was at the sometimes can’t help but think that time, but I was drawn to him right maybe I did get something from away. There is something about my father. These types of thoughts him that speaks of kindness, a noble 15


CCA BREAKS GROUND ON FREEDOM COMMONS BY DAVID CONDLIFFE Executive Director Center for Community Alternatives

Culminating from years of planning and technical assistance provided by The Fortune Society, the Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) recently started construction on a new housing development named Freedom Commons. This initiative, located in Syracuse, New York, is CCA’s replication of The Fortune Academy (“the Castle”) and Castle Gardens, Fortune’s housing models. Freedom Commons offers a significant opportunity for economic development in an underdeveloped area of Syracuse, and reflects a bold vision and strategic partnership with the Syracuse Housing Authority (SHA). The equal partnership between CCA and SHA is the first known instance in the nation where a public housing authority partnered with a nonprofit to develop housing for people who were “Reentry incarcerated.

justice involvement and their families; and 45 affordable apartments for lowincome families. CCA will provide supportive services both on and offsite, and help transitional housing residents find permanent housing. Freedom Commons will receive its first tenants in late 2018 or early 2019.

The first stage of the project involved finance, design, and construction. As challenging as that always is, the most important work will be the replication of the services, people, and culture of Castle Gardens and The Fortune Academy. One of my personal joys is attending community meetings at The Fortune Academy. It is a privilege to housing must be so much more than observe how residents a bed and four walls. The Castle’s culture is the support each other Too often, public and ensure a safe, housing authorities true foundation of Fortune’s housing models stable community. reject applicants with and will be for Freedom Commons, as well.” Conventional shelters criminal records. As do not provide that— a result, these individuals often end The name Freedom Commons honors the Castle does. Reentry housing up in unsafe housing conditions. Syracuse’s history as an outspoken must be so much more than a bed and SHA works to promote alternate abolitionist city during the time of four walls. The Castle’s culture is the policies, rejecting blanket rules and slavery, and its important role in the true foundation of Fortune’s housing examining each applicant individually, Underground Railroad. Fortune’s models and will be for Freedom thereby recognizing the importance of invaluable technical assistance is Commons, as well. appropriate services provided by CCA possible due to critical financial and others. support from New York Governor For more information, reach Andrew Cuomo and from the state out to David Condliffe at Freedom Commons will have 57 legislature. But it all started with the residential units, including three units combined vision of Fortune President and SHA regarding availability and of transitional housing; nine units of and CEO JoAnne Page and Liz Glazer, eligibility for this upstate housing permanent, supportive housing for former Secretary for Public Safety to program.  individuals experiencing homelessness Governor Cuomo. or individuals with prior criminal VOLUME L • DECEMBER 2017


A FAIR CHANCE AT OPPORTUNITY BY RONALD DAY Associate Vice President The Fortune Society

criminal records never make it to the interview phase. If they do, employers often base hiring decisions on their intuition and subjective impressions of the candidate (Moss and Tilly, 2001). This type of discrimination

Justice Statistics, 2014; Pager, 2003, 2007).

Efforts are being made to reduce Individuals with criminal records the discrimination jobseekers with a often have their applications criminal record face during the hiring discarded because of preconceived process. One such effort is ideas associated with such referred to as “Ban the Box.” has shown that This policy requires employers records, and are often denied “Research the opportunity to present employment prospects increase in to remove the check box from themselves in a positive cases where individuals can succeed the job application that asks, light to a potential employer in some form or another, the (Word, Zanna, and Copper, in securing an interview. However, question that these individuals 1974). Research has shown many individuals with criminal records dread: “have you ever been that employment prospects never make it to the interview phase.” convicted of a crime?” Ban increase in cases where the Box has gained popularity individuals can succeed in since it was first embraced as has been found to disproportionately securing an interview (Pager, Western, a policy by the Hawaii legislature in impact minorities, particularly African and Sugie 2009; see also Swanson, 1998. To date, it has been adopted Americans, since they make up the Langfitt-Reese, and Bond, 2012). by 29 states and over 150 local majority of individuals involved in However, many individuals with the criminal justice system (Bureau of 17


municipalities (National Employment Law Project, 2017).

records who applied for jobs within those agencies.

Generally, application of Ban the Box policies differ depending on the jurisdiction, sector, or the nature of the job. Some jurisdictions only require employers in the public sector to ban the box, while others extend the ban to government contractors. However, certain jobs are exempt from these policies because they require a criminal background check pursuant to a local, state, or federal law, or they bar employment based on a criminal history (e.g. jobs in law enforcement or those working with children).

Four years later, in August 2015, New York City passed one of the most progressive Ban the Box policies in the country. This law, called the Fair Chance Act (FCA), bolstered prohibitions on criminal history inquiries and expanded the reach of Ban the Box to the vast majority of NYC employers. Unlike Executive Order 151, the FCA required employers to remove the criminal history question from applications and refrain from asking questions about criminal history during the interview process. Because of its requirements and the fact that it applied to employers from all sectors, the FCA was designed to have more sweeping than Executive Order 151.

Another difference in the policy’s application is the stage of the hiring process when employers can make the criminal history inquiry. The question is allowed after the initial interview in some jurisdictions, while others permit the inquiry only after a candidate has been fully vetted or after a conditional offer of employment has been made (Smith, 2014; National Employment Law Project, 2016). In August 2011, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Executive Order 151, which required New York City agencies to ban the box. In part, the order stated: “the City wishes to safely remove barriers that impede otherwise qualified individuals from obtaining employment with agencies of the City of New York.” Mayor Bloomberg later extended the ban to agencies that contract with the city to provide human services. The policy removed any question regarding criminal history from job applications. Moreover, hiring managers were prohibited from asking criminal history-related questions during the initial interview, but they could solicit information about criminal history during a followup interview. Executive Order 151 impacted hundreds of agencies and thousands of individuals with criminal

I am currently in the process of completing a study that seeks to broaden our understanding of Ban the Box policies. The study includes two main objectives: (1) to examine the hiring practices of some New York City agencies in the context of Ban the Box; and (2) to document employer perspectives on Ban the Box. Based on responses received to date, I have issued some preliminary findings and recommendations, the latter of which are listed here: 1. Any change in the law regarding Ban the Box should be followed by a rigorous marketing campaign for employers and job-seekers, including the use of social media.

limited to webinars, lectures, tutorials, videoconferences, and case studies. 3. Limit the liability of employers that comply with Ban the Box policies in order to assuage concerns about lawsuits involving incidents that are unforeseeable and require amendments to insurance company policies and practices. 4. Jurisdictions should adopt Ban the Box policies that apply to employers in all sectors, including subcontractors. 5. Require agencies to collect data about their hiring practices relative to individuals with criminal records, to allow for strict monitoring and enforcement for non-compliance. 6. Conduct more research into the various Ban the Box policies, in order to identify a model policy that increases the chances for individuals with criminal records to secure interviews and employment opportunities. I look forward to completing my study and further informing the field so we may work toward advancing policies that afford truly fair opportunities for people with justice involvement to secure employment. For more information about the Fair Chance Act, visit

2. It is imperative that employers receive training on how Ban the Box policies will alter their hiring practices. The training could ideally be provided in a variety of ways, including but not




Imagine if, after serving your time in prison or jail, and despite all the challenges associated with that, you found employment. This job not only provided a stable life for you and your family, but through it you contributed to your community. Thereafter, you had no further contact with the criminal justice system. But early one morning years later, without warning, immigration police ripped you out of your home and put you in jail because of that old conviction. You then learn that an immigration judge has no power to weigh any considerations to release you on bond or cancel your deportation. You may never return to your family, and may be exiled to a country that you have never considered home. This is the reality of the immigration system in the United States. In recent years, the immigration and criminal justice systems have become increasingly intertwined, as immigration policy has become ever more punitive. Under harsh federal immigration laws, green card holders, asylees, and longtime undocumented residents can face mandatory detention and deportation for any of a long list of offenses, including shoplifting, forgery, and drug possession—even if the offense occurred decades before. At the same time, the U.S. government has stripped immigrants of key due-process protections, making it much harder for them to defend themselves against deportation or have a judge weigh any of the circumstances connected to their case. We need to drastically remake our federal immigration and criminal laws to correct the injustices of these systems, but this is a long-term fight. In the meantime, there are things we can fight for at the local level to protect people with justice involvement from getting trapped in the unforgiving deportation system. The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) is working with The Fortune Society and other allies on a couple of initiatives that New York State can take to end the cycle of punishment and keep families together.

THE ONE DAY TO PROTECT NEW YORKERS ACT IDP and Fortune are spearheading work on the One Day to Protect New Yorkers Act, sponsored by New York State Assembly Member Marcus Crespo and Senator Marisol Alcantara. This bill would make a minor change to the New York penal law, reducing the maximum sentence for a Class A misdemeanor by one day, from 365 days to 364 days. By doing so, a number of the harsh immigration consequences, like mandatory detention and deportation that can result from certain misdemeanor convictions, would be reduced or eliminated. In addition to fighting for passage in the state legislature, we are also calling upon the governor to include this minor change in his budget.

PARDONS In some cases, a pardon from the governor may help prevent detention and deportation. IDP, Fortune, and other allies are working to find legal support for those who need pardons, and are asking the governor to consider granting pardons on a much larger scale.

POST-CONVICTION RELIEF For some immigrants, reopening an old criminal case, especially one in which you were not advised or advised incorrectly of the immigration consequences of a plea, may help you remain in the country. Though this is often difficult to do, it may be an option, especially for green card holders with convictions after 2010. We are working to increase the number of lawyers who can take these cases and ensure that the laws are as protective as possible.

For more information on any of these initiatives, please reach out to Khalil Cumberbatch, Fortune’s Associate Vice President of Policy, at 718.906.4488 or And to learn more about the One Day To Protect New Yorkers Act, visit  19



BY KEITH OBERLIN Enterprise Systems Knowledge Manager Ford Foundation

The act of giving is special. No matter what you give, through whom or how, the mere act of giving is a beautiful thing. I was recently reminded at The Fortune Society’s #Justice4All youth-lead conference of the power and impact that many forms of giving can have when they come together to serve a single purpose. Through attending the conference, my eyes were also opened to the enormous responsibility that comes with giving, particularly when that giving comes from a foundation. It’s easy to pat ourselves on the back as grant makers—we often come up with ideas, fund them, and may even break from our daily routines to partake in the grant. But as funders, we should be regularly reminded that through our grants we also have the responsibility to position our grantees in the driver’s seat of solving problems and changing systems.

I’m talking about participatory grant making. This process may seem complicated, but as this conference demonstrated, when we come together and problem solve as a team, the reverberations felt across our communities and the systems we seek to change are beautiful, personal, and enriching for all. I’m not a traditional grant maker, but Ford Foundation’s Good Neighbor Committee gives non-grantmaking staff, like me, the opportunity to momentarily step into grant makers shoes. I was lucky—I already had a big idea: create a lasting program that strengthens agency in our young adults with justice involvement and empowers them to disrupt the very school-to-prison pipeline that snared them. That idea tested the limits of the funds I had to work with and my own experience in the criminal justice field. Transforming that idea into reality with only $30,000, no network, program strategy, and grant making education is where a key lesson lives:


Get a partner and trust them. I found partnership in the leaders at Fortune: Executive Vice President Stanley Richards, Senior Director of Policy Danielle Rosario, and most importantly the young adults led by former Policy Assistant Leviticus Mitchell. They already knew what was needed for lasting systemic change, and how best to use $30,000 to bring the vision to fruition. As a team, they not I, crafted an incredibly powerful youth-led program. And its impact was profound. I encourage everyone to take the time to learn about the program, the #Justice4All conference, and most importantly how to transform one’s own giving, no matter how big or small, into something larger by empowering the people you seek to support as trusted partners in your grants. To see highlights from the Justice4All conference, please visit And to learn more about the Good Neighbor Committee, visit 



receive minimal training on how to support the distinct needs of this population.

highlights rates of trauma, barriers to healthcare, and unique triggers and stressors among people within this population. We encourage healthcare providers to be compassionate toward individuals with justice histories, and build on the strengths their patients already possess.

REP’s training curriculum has been Trauma and adversity, including Since 2013, the Reentry Education shaped by contributions from Fortune criminal justice involvement, are Project (REP) has worked to fill participants and people with a history of significant social determinants clinicians’ gaps in knowledge and incarceration. In 2017, REP collaborated of health. Criminal with several advocacy justice involvement is apprentices, working associated with increased “Trauma and adversity, including criminal in Fortune’s David rates of substance use, justice involvement, are significant social Rothenberg Center for mental health needs, determinants of health.” Public Policy (DRCPP) cardiovascular disease, to raise awareness and hepatitis C, and HIV. advance reform on critical Consequently, there is often an improve their ability to engage people issues impacting people living with HIV elevated risk of death immediately with criminal justice histories in HIV and AIDS. This work is supported by following release. Still, despite the prevention, treatment, and care. the MAC AIDS Fund. unique health risks associated with We provide a training to healthcare incarceration, healthcare providers The advocacy apprentices developed providers across New York City that



strong research skills, provided invaluable insights into barriers they have faced accessing HIV treatment and care, and further honed advocacy skills they have developed in response to these challenges. REP and DRCPP will continue to support the vision and leadership of people with a history of incarceration as we expand our training in 2018. Listed below are health advocacy tips for individuals who are currently incarcerated:

REGARDING MEDICAL RECORDS Keep your own record of dates, visits, and tests with doctors. Keep track of any symptoms you had, including when you experienced them, where in your body you experienced them, and how long they lasted. Ask for copies of all of your medical records, and keep track of who you asked. Store a copy of your prescriptions in your cell or on your person. Research the medication you are being prescribed by going to the law library. Keep copies of what you find.

ON GRIEVANCES Get to know your prison’s grievance process, and keep all required forms in your cell. The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 requires you to go through all levels of the prison grievance system before filing a federal lawsuit. Keep grievances clear and concise. Keep copies of every complaint you write and the replies you get. In any future grievance, these will prove a pattern of “deliberate indifference.”

Sample Grievance: I am diagnosed with (condition) and have (relevant symptoms) associated with this diagnosis. (Treatment) is typically used to alleviate these symptoms. As an individual who is incarcerated, I do not have access to (treatment listed above). On (date), I saw (name of staff person) and requested (treatment listed above). I was denied and was not provided any other effective means of controlling my (symptoms). I am requesting (treatment) to control my (symptoms).

LEVERAGE YOUR COMMUNITY If you are having difficulties accessing your medication, ask someone outside the prison to make a phone call to the prison on your behalf. If you have a doctor you trust on the outside, call them and ask for a second opinion. Ask this doctor to sign a waiver so they can see your medical records.


IN THE APPOINTMENT Ensure the use of gloves by healthcare providers. Ask medical providers to remove instruments from their packaging in front of you. This way you can ensure that medical instruments are sterile. Ask your doctor to be screened for HIV and hepatitis C. Ask your doctor about PrEP and PEP. PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) helps protect people from HIV infection. PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) is a 28-day prescription that can prevent HIV transmission if it is taken within 36 hours of potential exposure. Ask your doctor when your medications will be dispensed and when they need to be refilled. To sign up to the REP newsletter, visit 


UNDERSTANDING THE EXPERIENCE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE DEBT BY KIMBERLY SPENCER-SUAREZ, MSW, PHD(C) Columbia School of Social Work KARIN D. MARTIN, PHD Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance University of Washington, Seattle

When people return to their communities from jail or prison, they are often met with a host of challenges: securing housing and employment, accessing benefits, reconnecting with women with incarceration histories— Based on our study’s findings, we family, and just generally getting Fortune participants and staff—about argue that CJFOs play a detrimental on their feet. Added to the gamut of their experiences with criminal justice role in the reentry process and have obstacles for many people is legal debt (see summary report, Criminal effects that extend well beyond the debt. Criminal Justice Financial Justice Debt: Costs & Consequences). debtor, impacting entire families Obligations (CJFOs) include fees, In generously sharing their thoughts, and communities. It would behoove fines, surcharges, restitution, costs, feelings, and personal stories, these policymakers to weigh both the and other monetary liabilities imposed participants revealed crucial insights. individual and societal costs of by the courts or other criminal justice imposing such monetary sanctions. agencies. They are an oftoverlooked yet virtually “People owe local, state, and federal Some practical policy ubiquitous feature of contact reform measures ripe with the justice system. governments billions of dollars in for continued advocacy Today in the United States, unpaid CJFOs. These debts have i n c l u d e predicating people owe local, state, and serious and harmful consequences.” payment requirements on federal governments billions ability to pay, allowing of dollars in unpaid CJFOs. incremental payment plans, These debts have serious and harmful Many people with outstanding debt offering significant grace periods consequences. find it difficult or even impossible after incarceration, and making sure to pay their CJFOs given their restitution is only mandated when In order to advance sound policy current income and employment there is an identifiable victim and reforms related to CJFOs, it is critical situations. Being unable to pay returned stolen property is factored that we understand the personal leaves them vulnerable for additional into the amounts owed. realities of having criminal justice consequences, including damaged debt. What is the impact of this debt These are just a few of many credit or extended parole supervision. on a person’s day-to-day life? How promising avenues to explore. By Those we interviewed also shared that does it affect family relationships pursuing such changes and shedding legal debt is a source of emotional or their path to community reentry? light on the issue of criminal justice stress, contributes to strain in What do people think of CJFOs in debt, advocates, practitioners, and interpersonal relationships, and can terms of fairness and how well they organizations like The Fortune Society lead to feelings of cynicism toward do (or don’t) compensate communities help chip away at the obstacles to the justice system—even society and victims? In partnership with The successful community reentry. as a whole. All of these factors can Fortune Society, these are the types undermine the goal of successfully To read the Criminal Justice Debt: of questions we recently set out to reintegrating people with incarceration Costs & Consequences report, visit answer. We conducted interviews and histories back into the community.  questionnaires with over 60 men and 23


CORA: ADVOCATING TO CHANGE THE ‘INJUSTICE’ SYSTEM affected by unjust laws and policies drive CoRA’s agenda and inform the work we do as a coalition. Accordingly, we seek to fulfill our mission of eradicating barriers to full community membership through a variety of activities, including the following: Identifying state and local laws that need to be changed, and drafting legislation to this change; BY SEBASTIAN SOLOMON Director of New York State Policy Legal Action Center CoRA Co-Chair JUDY WHITING General Counsel Community Service Society CoRA Co-Chair

The Coalition of Reentry Advocates (CoRA) is a New York State coalition made up of legal, advocacy, and policy groups that work to change laws and other policies so that people who have been impacted by the criminal justice system have a chance to succeed as thriving community members. We use the term “criminal justice system” even though we know that this system is fraught with injustice. One of these injustices is the life-altering consequences of a conviction, or even just an arrest. More than 10 years ago, a New York State Bar Association Committee concluded that many New York laws and policies restrict “access to the essential features of a lawabiding and dignified life,” including family, housing, work, education, civic participation (such as voting or jury service), and financial stability. We at CoRA believe that these laws and

policies must be dismantled in order to ensure dignity and respect for all members of the community. These changes will also improve public safety by reducing the likelihood of returns back to incarceration, also known as recidivism. CoRA started in 2005 as an informal group working to remove barriers to community reentry. In 2012, we created a more formal structure and adopted our current name. Since that time, CoRA has continued to expand. There are currently 17 voting members and four partner organizations. The group promotes state and local legislation, plus other policy reforms, which improve employment, licensing, and housing opportunities for individuals impacted by the criminal justice system. We have also met with the state Office of Court Administration (OCA) to suggest reforms for how courts maintain their records, in order to improve accuracy; with the Division of Parole to seek changes in the process for issuing Certificates of Relief from Disabilities and Certificates of Good Conduct; and with histories.

Advocating to state and local administrative agencies to change administrative rules and policies; Advocating to elected officials to develop a progressive legislative agenda that aligns with our mission; Advocating to elected officials to support and enact the legislative changes CoRA has drafted; Providing information to various audiences through written materials and presentations; Providing information to help policymakers, elected officials, and other groups; and Collaborating and supporting each other on litigation in which various coalition members are involved or that affects our clients. This is just a brief summary of the work we do. To learn more about CoRA, visit

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