Ronald Day, Associate Vice President of the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) at The Fortune Society

Championing Alternatives to Incarceration to Keep Families Together

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Fortune Society has a reputation for providing model services to people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. These services are essential for increasing public safety, promoting self-sufficiency, and reducing the harm associated with incarceration. While I am delighted that Fortune has come to serve over 6,000 people a year, I am also thrilled that we remain committed to the advocacy work that was the genesis of Fortune.

In 1967, David Rothenberg became inspired to advocate for people who, by virtue of having been convicted of a crime, received little in the way of government support. Drug addiction and incarceration had, in many instances, eroded job skills, severed community ties, and fractured family bonds. Thus, before he formed Fortune, David made a commitment to help address these issues. He trusted that the people who showed up at his theater office wanted and deserved another chance, and that they were worthy of jobs, unified families, safe and affordable housing, higher education, vocational training, and adequate medical treatment. In essence, David was advocating for equality, fairness, and justice, which was rarely meted out in poor, minority communities.

This same spirit that spurred David to action in 1967 is also alive in the advocacy work done by Fortune today. As the old saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Indeed, the need to advocate against harmful policies is as great now as it was when Fortune was conceived. As our criminal justice system has expanded, so too have the policies that increase the likelihood of people reoffending, remaining in perpetual association with the system away from their families and communities.

In recognition of the work done by David, Fortune named its policy center in his honor. The policy center has embraced the notion that service provision and advocacy go hand in hand. For that reason, Fortune consistently advocates against housing policies that infringe on the rights of people with criminal records to reside with their loved ones and visiting policies that curtail interaction with people detained in jail, especially between parents and their children. Further, Fortune continues to champion alternatives to incarceration, so that people can remain in the community without stigmatizing convictions or without custodial sentences. We also advocate for those who are often denied parole because we believe they pose minimal to no risk to public safety.

The policy center, continuing the legacy that David established almost 50 years ago, challenges policies that damage families trying to recuperate after entanglement in the criminal justice system. Because the family is the most important institution in our society and no member of any family is infallible, we need to heed Mark V. Olsen’s directive: “At the end of the day, a loving family should find everything forgivable.”

Indeed, far too many families are struggling to be whole (or be whole again), and are having this process thwarted by ill-conceived and retributive policies. At Fortune, we assert that clients become members of the Fortune family. Thus, as we help them build their family ties, we in turn have a responsibility to serve them, support them in reaching their fullest potential, and treat them like family.

This article was featured in our latest issue of the Fortune News.

Categories: Community, Featured


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