"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Friday, February 03, 2006
Interfaith Coalition of Advocates for Reentry and Employment

The Interfaith Coalition of Advocates for Reentry and Employment (ICARE) was founded in October 2004 to organize a religious response to the crisis of recidivism in New York State. In the Restorative Justice tradition, people of faith affirm the intellectual and spiritual capacity of persons with criminal convictions, believing in the potential for rehabilitation and reconciliation. ICARE's commitment to Restorative Justice further takes into account the "Restoration of Rights" for formerly incarcerated persons. ICARE is advocating for the removal of barriers encountered by people reentering the community after prison. The ICARE coalition consists of communities of faith, direct service providers, and policy organizations. To learn more about the context for ICARE's "Restoration of Rights" platform, please visit our "Issues Addressed" page.

The scope of our work is to:

(1) Educate members of congregations about incarceration and reentry barriers, and assist them in initiating prison and reentry ministries;

(2) Expand a coalition of faith communities, direct service providers, policy organizations, and regional denominational institutions to develop in a closely-knit network of advocates;

(3) Develop a model statute to eliminate reentry barriers;

(4) Organize faith leaders to advocate for the Restoration of Rights of formerly incarcerated individuals.

Issues addressed

In New York State, 93 percent of incarcerated persons are black and Latino[1]. The majority come from New York City’s seven most impoverished neighborhoods: Harlem, the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Jamaica, East New York, and Oceanhill-Brownsville[2]. It is extraordinarily difficult for black and Latino persons with prison records to establish themselves once they leave prison: a Princeton University sociology study released in February 2005 showed that it is easier for a white man with a criminal conviction to get a job in New York City than a black man without a prison record, much less a black man with a prison record [3]. This fact confirmed a 2004 study by the Community Service Society, which reported that nearly one-half (49 percent) of black men in New York City are unemployed[4].

The crisis of recidivism has become increasingly dire as men and women with criminal convictions have few, if any, prospects for employment, housing, and emotional support when they leave prison. Nationwide, approximately 630,000 persons reenter the community each year; within three years, 68 percent are reincarcerated. In working with communities of faith, ICARE utilizes an established Restorative Justice framework, which advocates for reconciliation with the community. ICARE has expanded the Restorative Justice model to advocate for formerly incarcerated individuals’ Restoration of Rights, a model that takes into account the connections between race, incarceration, and unemployment. As persons of color with criminal convictions are released back into impoverished communities with yet another deck of cards stacked against them, they encounter legal discrimination in addition to experiences of social stigmatism, feelings of guilt, and lack of education and skills[5]. Despite their best efforts to make a new life for themselves, they invariably find themselves serving another sentence, this time outside prison walls.

Jose, one such individual interviewed by ICARE’s director, achieved a master’s degree in prison and trained in building maintenance in the prison construction shop. Upon release, he was hired to work in social services at the Red Cross but was shunned once they discovered his prison record. Daily discrimination became too much to bear, and he took every step needed to start his own construction business. However, the Department of Consumer Affairs rejected his application. Although he achieved high marks in courses run by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, submitted letters of support from the Red Cross and his parole officer, and explained the circumstances of his crime in detail, he received a form letter listing the factors that were taken into consideration. He was banned from applying for a license for five years. Investigation into this situation, along with several others, reveals a highly arbitrary licensure process with little oversight. It is just one example of the systemic discrimination encountered by formerly incarcerated individuals.

1 Fact Sheet from the Correctional Association, February 2004.

2 Fact sheet from the Justice Works Community Seven Neighborhood Partnership Action campaign, as reported by Campaign Coordinator Julie Mormando, October 2004.

3 “Study Shows More Job Offers for Ex-Convicts Who Are White,” by Paul Von Zielbauer, New York Times, June 17, 2005. He writes: “White men with prison records receive far more job offers for entry-level jobs in New York City than black men with identical records, and are offered jobs just as often—if not more so—than black men who have never been arrested, assording to a new study by two Princeton professors.”

4 “A Crisis of Black Male Employment: Unemployment and Joblessness in New York City, 2003,” Community Service Society Annual Report, February 2004.

5 Employment discrimination bears a tremendous similarity to Black Codes, laws that were passed in Southern states after emancipation. Among other things, Black Codes denied certain kinds of employment to African Americans and in some states made unemployment illegal. Unemployed persons could be arrested by the town Sheriff and leased out to employers under a system known as “Convict Leasing.” Many people were sent to chain gangs and worked under threat of whips, guns, and dogs.

link to the site
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