The mission of the A Better Chance Reentry Initiative (ABC) is to bring positive change to the reentry process for individuals leaving Los Angeles County jails and to ultimately reduce homelessness and recidivism for this population. Through the support of the Soros Foundation, the ABC Initiative was founded to confront these problems head on and create a brighter future for those leaving L.A. County jails. ABC has two approaches to lessen reentry obstacles: The Reentry Task Force and ABC2.
The Los Angeles County jail system is the largest in the nation (pdf), with a daily population of approximately 20,000 inmates. As a result, L.A. County has the highest number of individuals in the nation leaving jail and reentering communities. Many of these men and women encounter a variety of obstacles finding opportunities for employment, housing, and public benefits upon release. In an effort to curb recidivism, the Jails Project of the ACLU-SC launched theA Better Chance Reentry Initiative to help mitigate some of these reentry barriers. The ACLU-SC named its program A Better Chance as a response to the Second Chance Act (pdf), a federal program designed to improve outcomes for people returning to communities from prisons and jails. However, only providing individuals with a “second chance” does not ensure that the reentry obstacles they may face will be addressed and ameliorated. Instead of merely providing incarcerated individuals a “second chance” at becoming productive community members upon their release, that “second chance” should also be a “better chance.”
The Task Force is a sustainable coalition that seeks to reduce the legal and quasi-legal obstacles that thwart the reentry of Los Angeles County jail inmates with disabilities. Its priority is to ensure that all disabled individuals in L.A. County jails who were on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) prior to their arrest are able to reinstate their benefits immediately upon release. The number of mentally, physically or developmentally disabled individuals held in L.A. County jails may be as high as 5,000. In fact, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has called the County Jail System “the largest mental health provider in the country.”
While many of the men and women leaving the jails encounter a variety of obstacles when released, the situation is particularly stark for individuals with disabilities. Disabled individuals lose their SSI benefits while in custody, and the process to have their benefits reinstated does not begin until after they are released. It may take anywhere from a few weeks to months for their benefits to be reinstated. This delay in regaining benefits increases the likelihood that inmates with disabilities will destabilize (pdf) and be rearrested, or become homeless upon their release. To that end, the Reentry Task Force is working to partner with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) in developing its new Reentry Clinic in which all incarcerated individuals will be provided with information and assistance to aid in their successful reentry into the community.
ABC2 is a civics and advocacy training program that seeks to educate communities affected by mass incarceration about the collateral consequences of incarceration and to provide them with resources to assist ex-offenders in their successful reentry. ABC2 provides a forum in which marginalized communities can address issues associated with reentry policies and incarceration, while, at the same time, providing capacity training that will allow them to advocate for themselves, their incarcerated family members and their communities. More importantly, it provides individuals affected by disproportionately high incarceration rates with the tools to effectuate policy change and participate in local policy discussions. The curriculum is a work in progress and will continue to grow as the program is inspired by participants’ input and personal experiences.
For more information, please contact Ronald Chatters, III, Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow & Director of ABC at [email protected] or at 213.977.9500 x288.