July 7, 2014

Stuck in Prison, Nowhere to Go

7-7-2014 Vermont:

224 Vt. Inmates Can’t Find Housing

There are 224 Vermont inmates sitting in prison who could be released if they had a place to live, according to data from the Department of Corrections.

DOC officials say they need more halfway houses, but that is not the only hurdle inmates who have served their sentences face when they are sent back into the community.

It is not clear whether the number represents a trend up or down from past years, although a DOC official said the number of inmates eligible for release except for housing last fall was 194.

Many are people whose crimes complicate their search for a place to live. About a quarter of the 224 are sex offenders, who have restrictions on where they can live and face an even deeper stigma.

The group also includes 140 people convicted of violent crimes, another factor that limits where they can live.

Substance abuse and societal stigma too often hurt offenders’ chances of making it on the outside, officials say.

To find housing, DOC works with local transitional housing organizations across the state who help offenders find places to live or, in some cases, the state operates a facility itself.

Some leaders at those organizations say Vermont needs more transitional housing, but they also say there should be fewer people incarcerated in the first place.

The 224 includes people who have served the minimum time required by their sentence and are eligible to live in the community if they follow certain rules and are supervised by DOC staff.

That number also includes some inmates who refuse to cooperate with case workers who want to help them make a plan for release.

In the backdrop of the conversation about prisoners awaiting housing is DOC’s controversial practice of sending about 500 prisoners to prisons in Kentucky and Arizona because Vermont facilities are full. Out-of-state beds are cheaper than in-state incarceration.

Derek Miodownik, a DOC official who administers grants to community programs that provide transitional housing, said the system has a “backlog effect whereby because people are sitting, waiting to get housing, you have other people sitting in beds at a cheaper rate out of state.”

Prison officials say the solution isn’t as simple as adding more housing. Beds must be accompanied by social services, healthy relationships, a job and other tools to help offenders successfully begin new lives.

To find good housing, DOC case managers consider what services a person will need, where he or she is from, where victims of the crime live and which programs have openings.

“It’s almost like a puzzle where they start with what they’d like the picture to look like,” Miodownik said.

Perhaps the abundance of inmates waiting for release shows that DOC does well reserving prison only for people who are dangerous to others, he said.

In St. Albans, the Community Justice Center leases apartments for people coming out of prison while they search for a job and a permanent place to live.

Offenders are a lightning rod in the community, said Marc Wennberg, the center’s director, sometimes making it hard for them to integrate.

Substance abuse is also a huge challenge, he said. Most offenders come out of prison mostly “clean,” but the temptation is huge, Wennberg said.

About 60 percent to 70 percent of the people the St. Albans center helps are able to move on successfully, he said. The rest end up back in prison, usually for violating conditions of their release, such as curfew.

Housing for prior inmates comes in all forms, from leased apartments to community living, some with more structure and programs than others.

Dismas of Vermont runs three minimally supervised transitional houses, in Rutland, Burlington and Hartford.

Jan-Roberta Tarjan, the executive director, said there needs to be more housing, but there also needs to be a shift in thinking about who goes to prison in the first place.

“Ultimately, I think that we are beginning to change our minds about how readily we incarcerate people for certain crimes,” she said. ..Source.. by Laura Krantz

No comments: