By Elizabeth Nguyen
SACRAMENTO, CA— Being the most populous state in the country, California also has the second largest prison population with a number hovering around 122,417 people incarcerated. This translates to an imprisonment rate of 309 incarcerated per 100,000 people in California. With such a large prison population, this leads to significant difficulties in how to best facilitate formerly incarcerated individual’s reintegration back into society.
Since 2017, California’s prison population has finally begun to stabilize, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic California expedited release for thousands of prisoners. The high rate of incarceration, coupled with some anecdotes of expedited release, raises important questions about how to best support prisoners who are released and reduce recidivism.
One organization called “Re-Entry Providers Association of California” helps address the needs of formerly incarcerated persons as they reenter society. Activists and prison reform advocates have praised it to be the nation’s first statewide effort to help formerly incarcerated people.
And in a syndemic of increased prison releases, the ongoing COVID-19 housing crisis, and a temperamental pandemic labor market, finding housing and security for newly released prisoners has “never been more important” said founder and president of A New Way of Life Reentry Project in Los Angeles Susan Burton.
Building Opportunities of Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), a Bay Area-based social justice non-profit, is one of many re-entry service organizations to join the cause. According to BOSS’s website, REPAC will aim to maintain a united front to “advance fair and responsible laws, and further equitable policies, budgets and practices, enabling re-entry providers across our state to build capacity and sustain their mission.”
In addition to lawmakers, individual activists, and lobbyists, the organizations that will be apart of REPAC include Safety and Justice (CSJ), A New Way of Life, Amity Foundation, Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Center Point, Inc., Health Right 360, and the Los Angeles Area Re-Entry Partnership (LAARP).
Before REPAC, there was not a shortage of organizations who aimed to aid formerly incarcerated people in California. But, as Assemblyman Isaac Bryan explained, service providers have been “fighting for scraps of resources.” In California’s 2021 budget, Corrections and Rehabilitation saw an increase in investment from 2020 while both K-12 and Higher Education saw a decrease.
On Thursday October 28th, REPAC held a launch event at the Amity Foundation in Los Angeles, California. Speakers present at the event included Assemblymember Isaac Bryan, Assemblymember Mia Bonta, and Senator Durazo who represents District 24.
Senator Durazo, in a voice of support, said “REPAC is going to be that essential unified voice that we need to really help shape the conversations that are taking place all over the state. And there’s no better time for REPAC to have begun.”
REPAC emerges among a flurry of criminal justice reform bills that could potentially lead to the resentencing and release of thousands of incarcerated Californians. At a seemingly perfect moment, REPAC hopes to step in and break the cycle of mass incarceration, and provide meaningful opportunities and services to formerly incarcerated individuals in order to reduce recidivism.