By The Vanguard Staff
LONG BEACH, CA – A recently-released prisoner here, Alberto Perez, has bounced around California prisons most of his adult life, and according to an NBC News report is proof of a “prison-to-homelessness pipeline.”
At a recent county encounter where recently-released prisoners may be offered help to adjust, all Perez wanted was a pair of construction boots—the NBC story suggested he didn’t get those or shelter, which he said he didn’t want anyway.
“Perez explained his decision. He said the shelter, where he was required to obey strict rules regarding his comings and goings, mirrored life in prison,” noting, “A shelter is worse than a jail. Why do I have to be in a controlled, prison-like environment to get assistance? That’s what I don’t understand.”
“California, unlike other states with large prison populations, releases inmates without requiring them to have places to live. Correctional officials in other states with large prison populations, such as New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois, mandate that parolees have housing when they leave prison. If they don’t, they are required to live in halfway houses or, in some states, shelters. Those who refuse can end up back behind bars,” NBC noted.
Since 2019, at least 36,400 inmates have been released from California state prisons without fixed addresses. A quarter of them—roughly 8,900 people—were sent to Los Angeles County, according to an NBC News analysis of data obtained through public records requests.
The analysis maintains homeless former prisoners arriving in Los Angeles County nearly doubled from 1,621 in 2019 to 2,945 in 2020, when officials accelerated releases in response to the pandemic. Another 2,371 were released last year, according to the data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The NBC report said there’s an “increasingly broken system that sends thousands of felons to the streets with limited support and monitoring, according to interviews with parole and probation officers, former prison officials and inmates, and re-entry advocates.”
“The manpower and resources aren’t there,” said Ralph Diaz, who ran California’s prison system from September 2018 to October 2020. “I don’t see how it’s going to improve without some major intervention,” Diaz told NBC.
The “number of homeless people in Los Angeles County has continued to rise in recent years — topping more than 75,000, according to the latest tally by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority — despite major efforts to stem the problem,” said NBC.
“At the same time, the proportion of homeless people who spent time in prison has risen. Last year, one in five homeless people in Los Angeles County reported being on parole. Former prison officials blamed the increases on a round of criminal justice reforms that went into effect five years ago and gave many inmates early release dates. Then the pandemic hit, and prisons pushed people out even faster. “We knew this was going to be a disaster,” NBC reported.
NBC said, “It’s unclear how the rise in homeless parolees has affected public safety in the city of Los Angeles. Since 2018, the city police department has required officers to document whether suspects were homeless. For seven months, NBC News requested the number of homeless parolees arrested in violent crimes from the Los Angeles Police Department. Officials failed to provide it.”
NBC reported 24 percent of homicide victims in the city of LA last year were homeless, “ even though the unhoused make up only one percent of the city’s population, of 381 homicide victims, 92 were homeless.”
Gabriella Aguilera, a regional parole administrator with the state corrections department, told NBC, “It is not illegal to be homeless…We do have formerly incarcerated offenders who want to be homeless and don’t want any programs that we offer. And in order to not violate any type of due process or their rights, we ultimately allow that.”
“Homeless people recently released from prison have particularly long odds of finding housing. Some public housing programs bar people convicted of certain felonies. The options are particularly limited for formerly incarcerated men who struggle with drug addiction and mental health issues,” advocates say.
The NBC News investigation said it learned the Los Angeles County Probation Department said that “on average there were 1,192 homeless offenders on their roster every month. And 35 percent of them were in housing programs.
“Housing availability was even lower for people who applied through a separate county program known as the Bridge Housing program. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said in May that 184 beds were designated for program participants countywide. The beds are open from three months to a year,” reported NBC.
Michael Bornman, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s captain whose duties included trying to find shelter for people leaving jail, told NBC “it was a constant struggle. We would have maybe 1,000 inmates released, and we’d be lucky to place three.”
Former inmates are often left on their own to figure out how to apply for housing. But many struggle with illiteracy, how to use a smartphone or how to get online.
“The biggest problem is that there is no continuum of care,” said Mara Taylor, the founder of Going Out by Going In, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit group of hundreds of former inmates who help recently released felons navigate life on the outside, said NBC News.
“Terri Hardy, a spokesperson for the corrections department, said prisons offer an array of classes, from basic reading to college level, as well as job training to help prepare inmates to find employment when they are released. The agency said it had spent more than $84 million as of last year on housing and support programs for people on parole, which can last from six to 15 months,” NBC added.
NBC reported “California’s prison system was overhauled in 2011. At the time, about 156,000 inmates were squeezed into the state’s prisons, double the legal capacity. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the overcrowded conditions were ‘toxic,’ and unconstitutional. The court ordered the state to release inmates as quickly as possible.
“Among other changes, legislators created a two-tier parole system that shifted inmates with nonviolent felonies to county supervision. Counties across the state have responded to the influx differently…in Los Angeles County, probation officers say they are at a breaking point.
“The agency is flooded with dozens of lawsuits, as reported by “NBC Nightly News,” featuring hundreds of former juvenile offenders who claim probation officers sexually abused them in youth facilities. There’s a severe staffing shortage, records show, and there’s a spate of officers being attacked on the job.”
“They don’t want to, necessarily, have to follow a curfew. They don’t, necessarily, want to have to follow house rules,” said Jennifer Kranzer, a program manager with HealthRIGHT360, in an interview with NBC, adding, “With transitional housing, there is a lot more structure, because the goal for us is to get some sort of permanency that they can maintain on their own.”
“No one gives a f— about prisoners,” one former unhoused prisoner told NBC, and officials said, of homeless former prisoners, “If they don’t get more help, they commit crimes.”
NBC noted “Jose Ruiz, 27, who had been released from prison four weeks earlier,” went to a county van looking for help. “Ruiz, the father of three, had been convicted of stealing and stripping cars and needed a stable place to stay. His mother had kicked him out because of his methamphetamine addiction.
“If you don’t have nowhere to go, you go back to the streets. The system isn’t helping me. I am doing everything on my own,” Ruiz said to NBC News, reporting he’s off drugs, and “even landed a job working at a chicken restaurant, but he doesn’t credit probation’s outreach with his turnaround.”