Helping People Transition from Incarceration to Society During a Pandemic

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Executive Summary

The First 72+, a nonprofit in New Orleans that works with people reentering society after incarceration, keeps an office directly across from the New Orleans Parish Jail. This makes it easier for people who are released from jail to walk across the street and immediately receive a helping hand. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, all interactions must happen at least 6 feet apart. So, there’s a phone in a mailbox and a list of mentors to call. But the residents and mentors at First 72+ were insistent on one thing
—those reentering society needed help now
more than ever.

In the best of times, the reentry process is extraordinarily difficult and emotionally taxing. Returning people are rarely truly free, as they typically must navigate a long list of onerous rules. This may include electronic monitoring, housing restrictions, and curfews. They must also struggle against the sanctioned stigma of a criminal record, restricting education, employment, and housing opportunities. Since healthcare, substance use treatment, and other support services are utterly lacking behind bars, reentry is a time of extreme physical and mental health risk.