The coronavirus has added an element of chaos to every system of our community. For those systems that were complicated, or under-resourced to begin with, the chaos is multiplied. On Thursday night, our case study is prisoner re-entry. It wasn't hard for the virus to shake up the status quo, critics say, because it seems the system was already faulty to begin with.
Stacey Borden, a formerly incarcerated woman herself, saw what she describes as a gap in the right type of care for formerly incarcerated women. Borden founded New Beginnings Reentry Services, which takes a different approach to helping women re-enter the community after serving time. She's also a member of the Boston-based organization Families for Justice as Healing, which advocates for prison reform.
Leslie Credle is also a member of Families for Justice as Healing and, also, is formerly incarcerated. We spoke with both women about what re-entry looks like for formerly incarcerated women and what incarcerated people have experienced during the pandemic.
Then, Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney at Prisoners Legal Services, gave some context about how many people were released because of the coronavirus from the state's prisons and jails.
Stacey Borden and Leslie Credle - 1:39
Bonnie Tenneriello - 21:17
The Department of Corrections and the state's McGrath House — both mentioned during these interviews — issued statements to WGBH News in response to our show tonight. We are copying them in full for you below.
Statement from a spokesperson at the Department of Corrections:
“The Department of Correction has implemented precautionary measures to protect the health and safety of those in its care during the COVID-19 public health emergency, including pre-entry screening and universal testing of all inmates. Throughout its response to the pandemic, DOC has focused on reducing, to the greatest degree possible, the potential impact of the virus on our inmate population while maintaining core services and programming, and the Department will continue to follow DPH and CDC guidance as we move toward reopening safely based on public health trends and data.”
Additonally, the spokesperson provided the following information to us:
- "DOC has no authority or discretion to alter the sentence imposed by a court. Almost 650 DOC inmates have been released since April under the framework set forth by the SJC, and DOC continues to review and grant medical parole petitions through the process governed by statutory criteria. DOC has approved 15 such petitions in the past four months.
- Throughout the unprecedented global health crisis posed by COVID-19, inmate access to medical treatment, mental health programming, in-person attorney visits, mail, and laundry have all remained in place.
- Meals are certified by a registered dietitian and all inmates are provided three nutritious meals a day. The menu is heart healthy, low in sodium, high in fiber, low in sugar and contains zero trans-fats. It includes fruit twice per day and two cups of vegetables per day.
- Additional tier time and outdoor “fresh air” time has been implemented at each facility and general visitation has resumed with health and safety precautions in place at four DOC facilities.
- Additional info on DOC’s preparation for and response to COVID-19 can be found here, and additional info on the resumption of general visitation and other reopening steps can be found here."
Statement from Community Resources for Justice (CRJ) President and CEO John Larivee — CRJ runs the state's McGrath House — below:
"At Community Resources for Justice, we work to change lives and build stronger, safer communities because we believe someone’s past experience in the criminal justice system should not define their future.
People leaving incarceration face enormous hurdles in their transition home, including limited access to housing, employment, and substance use and mental health treatment. These barriers help to perpetuate cycles of incarceration, damaging individuals, families, communities, and our society as a whole. Our community-based residential reentry programs in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island empower individuals to overcome these barriers and break the cycle of incarceration so they can move forward with their lives at home and in their communities.
Elizabeth, a former resident of CRJ’s McGrath House program for women, put it this way shortly before she completed her stay: “If you want a chance at a normal, happy, full life, this is where you start.”
Our reentry programs operate under contracts with corrections agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Massachusetts Probation Service, and in partnership with county sheriffs and state departments of correction. These programs combine accountability with intensive case management and support services. Our programs recognize that many individuals in the criminal justice system have experienced trauma and violence in their lives and that addressing those needs must be part of the reentry process. Our staff clinical director facilitates trauma-informed group programming and individual counseling. We also have strong partnerships with community organizations, including the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Rosie’s Place, and Fathers’ Uplift, to provide additional services that promote healing and violence prevention.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created new barriers for returning individuals, with surging unemployment and social safety net organizations struggling to meet mounting needs. Reentry programs have adapted to continue supporting individuals making their transition from incarceration to the community who more than ever need the right tools and resources to meet, and beat, the challenges ahead. Many of our residents have continued to work in essential services throughout the pandemic. Others have been able to work remotely from our programs. And dozens have successfully completed their stay and transitioned home, most of them with stable housing and employment.
Siavash, a resident of our Brooke House program for men returning to Boston-area communities, is just one of many examples of recent success stories. He was able to continue his job providing IT support for a pharmaceutical company throughout the pandemic, often working into the early morning hours from the program’s conference room. His hard work and dedication paid off, and his employer plans to promote him to IT director when he wraps up his stay at Brooke House shortly.
CRJ remains dedicated to providing community-based residential reentry services to disrupt the cycle of incarceration and support positive outcomes for those we serve."