The first 24-48 hours after release from prison is the most critical time for someone transitioning from the penal system back into their community. COVID-19 created new challenges for those working to bridge the gap from incarceration to community, and Voices for a Second Chance (VSC) has worked diligently for more than a year to help address those new needs. Their COVID response work is moving the needle toward more equitable and humane approaches to providing support and second chances for justice-involved DC residents.
COVID-19’s impact on the justice-involved population was two-fold. First, DC residents incarcerated in DC or federal facilities faced the hardship of confinement in institutions without PPEs or treatment, without adequate COVID prevention options, and separated from traditional VSC intervention strategies because of COVID-related regulations. Second, the Compassionate Release Laws—prioritizing the release of inmates with serious health issues to home confinement—sent many incarcerated DC residents back to under-resourced communities that lacked supplies and adequate testing options. The prioritization of releasing these individuals, coupled with misinformation about the life-saving science behind vaccinations, struck VSC’s constituents at alarming rates, and contributed to a virus surge.
Over the past two years, VSC has allocated resources to revise their intervention strategies for justice-involved clients still incarcerated, as well as for client needs resulting from COVID-19 decarceration policies. These revisions included modernizing their approach to include telework and mobile provisions for clients, while also protecting clients and staff by providing PPE when allowed to deliver in-person services. Many of VSC’s clients were released to halfway houses in DC and Baltimore, where concerns over COVID-19 left residents locked inside facilities without access to essential supplies, or the ability to leave the residences to go to jobs or search for work or permanent housing. VSC sprang into action, getting urgently needed supplies and virtual support to clients at the facilities where DC residents were housed.
In addition to its continued direct services, with the Meyer Foundation-supported Transformative Empowerment Action Mandate (TEAM) program, VSC built a coalition of BIPOC leaders to create and advance an advocacy agenda to push for investments and policies to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on justice-involved citizens and their families. This project has kept focus and pressure on policymakers to address the critical needs for housing and other community support programs to serve VSC’s clients. Through the continuation of direct services and increased advocacy work, VSC’s modified strategies during the pandemic maintained their focus on the value of, and need for, effective community-based health and education approaches to provide care and assistance for justice-involved citizens.
Through their COVID relief strategies, re-entry and case management work, and programs that create, maintain, and strengthen family and community ties, VSC welcomes citizens home without judgement. The Meyer Foundation is proud to have provided support to VSC, as they push to address inequities that have been exacerbated during the pandemic.
The first 24-48 hours after release from prison is the most critical time for someone transitioning from the penal system back into their community. COVID-19 created new challenges for those working to bridge the gap from incarceration to community, and Voices for a Second Chance (VSC) has worked diligently for more than a year to …