ADVOCACY THAT CHANGES MINDS

In honor of our founder’s tireless efforts to promote the rights and fair treatment of people with histories of justice involvement, Fortune launched the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) in 2007. DRCPP resourced and advanced our policy development, advocacy, technical assistance, training, and community education efforts.

Fortune’s unique three-dimensional perspective and approach to shaping policy makes the agency particularly effective in the advocacy arena. Because the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) is a policy center embedded in a large direct service organization, we are able to leverage specific advantages not available to other advocacy organizations, including:

1) CULTURAL COMPETENCY

Having professional staff at every level of the agency and Governing Board who are directly impacted by the legal system helps to identify barriers to reentry, craft policy recommendations, and advocate for change.

2) ACCESS TO POLICYMAKERS

As a longstanding service provider, we have solid mutually-beneficial relationships with policymakers, which we are able to leverage to gain access to key players and help advance our agenda.

3) NATURAL BASE OF CONSTITUENTS

Fortune maintains a natural and closely connected base of grassroots constituents, serving thousands of people with legal system involvement each year through a range of discharge planning, reentry services, and alternatives to incarceration programming.

DRCPP’s advocacy platform highlights priorities aimed at advancing our mission. DRCPP is a means of leveraging our internal expertise to advocate for a fairer criminal justice system, promote effective program models for people with criminal justice histories, and change counterproductive laws and policies that prevent this population from successfully reentering the community. Our priorities include:

RECONSTRUCTING JUSTICE:
  • Promoting equitable policing, prosecutorial, and sentencing policies to reduce unnecessary criminalization and destructive reliance on incarceration.
  • Advocating to improve conditions of confinement and increase access to vital services for people currently incarcerated while working to close Rikers Island.
  • Defending the interests of individuals, families, and communities caught at the intersection of the criminal legal and immigration systems.
RESHAPING ACCESS:
  • Protecting rights to healthcare, housing, employment, and education for people with legal system involvement regardless of their race, gender, citizenship, age, zip code, or income.
  • Providing expertise and technical assistance locally and nationwide to expand safe, stable and affordable housing options for people with conviction histories.
  • Serving as an institutional plaintiff in litigation targeting discrimination based on justice involvement including housing and employment policies.
RAISING CONSCIOUSNESS
  • Developing narratives with a call for meaningful change that respect people’s humanity, while drawing attention to life experiences often silenced, ignored or marginalized.
  • Sharing our values, insight and recommendations with the community and elected officials through testimony at government hearings, agency visits, and public events.
  • Fostering personal expression through the creative arts to develop and deepen connections between people affected by overlapping inequities.
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  • SECURING SAFE, AFFORDABLE HOUSING

    The solace of home often provides a comforting shield against outside risks. Indoors, we have the freedom to plan for the future and dream of new possibilities. Unfortunately, many New Yorkers, particularly individuals with justice involvement, don’t have this privilege. Daily, they are vulnerable to the impact of homelessness. Without the safety of home, their path to successful reentry is extremely difficult. DRCPP provides expertise and technical assistance locally and nationwide to expand safe, stable, and affordable housing options for people with conviction histories.

    Protecting rights to healthcare, housing, employment, and education for people with legal system involvement regardless of their race, gender, citizenship, age, zip code, or income is germane to DRCPP’s work. Through community education, strategic litigation, policy reform, and technical assistance efforts we are helping individuals with justice histories find homes, and highlighting the housing barriers many people still face. We work in coalition to address NYCHA policies that require people with justice involvement to apply to lift permanent exclusion restrictions, to create Fair Chance for Housing legislation, and on issues impacting aging seniors returning to the community after long sentences in prison.

    The Fortune Society also filed a federal lawsuit against the Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund and we hope the outcome will move the needle toward ensuring individuals with criminal justice histories receive the necessary rights and protections from housing discrimination that are so desperately needed.

  • STRENGTHENING NON-CITIZEN ACCESS TO RESOURCES

    By helping people apply for pardons, co-leading legislative campaigns to change counterproductive laws, creating comprehensive resource materials, conducting Know Your Rights trainings, and elevating the call for universal representation through personal stories, we aim to protect vulnerable immigrants nationwide.

    For immigrants who face deportation due to prior legal system involvement, a pardon may be their only protection from living in fear of separation from the people they love, the life they’ve built, and the country they call home. Under our harsh immigration laws, punishment for immigrants with a conviction never ends. Immigrants (including legal permanent residents) can be deported for a past conviction, even when it is decades old. State governors have the ability to

    correct the injustices of a criminal legal and immigration system that unnecessarily criminalizes immigrants and communities of color in perpetuity.

    DRCPP stands ready with The Immigrant Defense Project to help immigrant New Yorkers as part of Pardon: Immigrant Clemency Project. This collaboration aims to protect immigrants and push back against policies that disempower and marginalize people with criminal histories.

    DRCPP and The Legal Aid Society joined together to arm immigrant communities affected most by unnecessary criminalization and the destructive reliance on incarceration to create a resource with access to information needed to make critical life decisions and connect readers with additional assistance. This comprehensive toolkit, In Pursuit of Community: A Guide for Empowering Our Neighbors, will serve as a guide for both agencies as we continue our collaboration this year, offering Know Your Rights workshops throughout New York City.

  • SUPPORTING PRO-IMMIGRANT LEGISLATIVE POLICY

    Universal representation is a crucial last line of defense that ensures free, skilled attorneys represent people facing deportation often keeping families and communities together. In New York City, there was a 1100% increase in cases that ended successfully when provided representation as compared to the rate for unrepresented cases.

    Our current deportation process continually reinforces the devastating racial and economic inequalities of our legal system by providing no access to free legal counsel for those who cannot afford to retain an attorney. Ultimately forcing children to face harsh consequences with no attorney available to protect their rights, and adults unskilled in the law must struggle to argue complex legal standards against trained government attorneys. DRCPP calls for universal representation, equity, and humanity in deportation matters, please hear our voice.

    DRCPP as part of a coalition of providers, labor unions, and membership organizations are calling on the New York State government, the Chief Judge, the legislature, and the governor, to stop ICE from targeting immigrant New Yorkers in the courts. We support the Protect Our Courts Act, a legislative effort to protect access to the courts for immigrant communities by imposing restrictions on civil immigration arrests of people attending court.

    DRCPP and The Immigrant Defense Project are proud partners on a campaign known as the One Day to Protect New Yorkers which supported legislation to amend the NY penal law to reduce the maximum sentence on class A misdemeanor offenses by one day- to 364 days. Under immigration law, minor convictions punishable by a sentence of a year or more can lead to detention, denial of necessary forms of immigration relief, and deportation for thousands of New Yorkers. The One Day to Protect New Yorkers Act was passed in the FY 2019-2020 budget, protecting communities and keeping New York families together.

  • REDEFINING OUR FAIR EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES

    Seventy million people, or 1 in 3 adults in America, have a criminal record. The United States is home to roughly the same number people with criminal records as it is to four-year college graduates. People with conviction histories face significant barriers to obtaining employment, compromising an individual’s, their families’, and our communities’ ability to achieve economic stability, prolonged safety, and grow with opportunity.

    DRCPP promotes fair hiring practices through strategic litigation, research, and community education. The Fortune Society serves as an institutional plaintiff in litigation matters, seeking to target employers with discriminatory policies and practices based on a person’s justice system involvement.  Dr. Ronald F. Day, Vice President of Programs, concluded a comprehensive research study on Executive Order 151 to test the efficacy of “ban the box” policies. Ban the Box refers to a policy that prohibits unreasonable discrimination against individuals with a criminal record.

    Ban the Box policies delay the time at which prospective employers are allowed to ask questions about an applicant’s conviction history, and vary by jurisdiction. In New York City, the Fair Chance Act prohibits prospective employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history prior to extending a conditional job offer. DRCPP trains employees and volunteers to share this information with participants and communities so people are prepared to assert their rights. DRCPP also works with the NYC Commission on Human Rights to report potential employer violations. Although these policies do not mandate employers to hire individuals with conviction records, it can be an important tool to reduce illegal discrimination.

  • BUILDING A COLLECTIVE LEADERSHIP MOVEMENT

    There is not one universal experience for incarceration. A concentration of voices and experiences narrows the perspective on the issues. This sets back the goal of our advocacy: for the world to see every person with justice involvement as an individual, with unique needs and purpose. DRCPP seeks honest recognition of the value directly impacted experts offer which means understanding that experiences are not uniform in nature, and that change is best created alongside leaders who can speak to the specific issue aiming to be addressed. When approaching DRCPP’s work, we include a critical mass of people known as the Policy Center Collective who have experience with the legal system directly, or with a collateral issue that serves as a pathway to justice system involvement. These different lenses and experiences will inform DRCPP’s movement towards a better future in a truly meaningful direction.

  • TOOLS TO FOSTER COMPASSIONATE HEALTHCARE

    We believe that all patients and providers deserve safe and trusting relationships that help support people on their paths to health and wellness. History of incarceration is associated with higher rates of chronic diseases such as hypertension, asthma, and cervical cancer, along with an increased risk for substance use disorders and infectious diseases. Individuals transitioning out of prisons and jails often face significant structural barriers that can impact their ability to access adequate healthcare. Common barriers include financial instability, difficulty in obtaining employment, discrimination, exclusion from public housing, and lack of health insurance.

    Despite the unique needs of formerly incarcerated people, healthcare providers receive little training on this population. Since 2013, the Reentry Education Project (REP) has facilitated trainings across New York City to fill healthcare providers and clinic staffs’ gap in knowledge and improve the healthcare responses to people impacted by the criminal justice system. Click here to learn more about our training toolkits and reentry resources in your community.

  • FOSTERING THE LEADERS OF TOMORROW

    An overwhelming number of young people feel disenfranchised within a system that is seemingly stacked against them. Understandably, these individuals have come to believe that their voice does not matter, and that they are powerless to shape the world in which they live. Additionally, our young clients have little to no exposure to civics issues and as a result, our future leaders are lacking essential knowledge and skills crucial for developing and implementing policy initiatives that can instill meaningful and lasting change for the communities that are impacted most by incarceration.

    To change this outlook, The Fortune Society created advocacy internships to train and engage a core group of young adults impacted by the justice system providing them with the resources necessary to grow as visible leaders in the movement for ending mass incarceration and promoting alternatives to incarceration.

  • ELEVATING NARRATIVES TO EDUCATE COMMUNITIES

    DRCPP actively works to create space and opportunities to magnify calls for meaningful change that respect people’s humanity, while drawing attention to life experiences often silenced, ignored or marginalized, utilizing various platforms. DRCPP hopes to diversify the voices of leaders weighing-in on critical issues and decisions impacting people with legal system involvement.

    Advocacy events, testimony, and conferences offered by The Fortune Society increase the diversity of voices in the criminal justice reform movement, allowing people with relevant experience to articulate perspectives on the issues and advocate for positive change. One national platform DRCPP utilizes to amplify our advocacy efforts is called Both Sides of the Bars. Both Sides of the Bars is a monthly talk show that currently airs on over 80 channels in twenty-four states nationwide. Hosted by different leaders within The Fortune Society each month, the program provides a platform for expert hosts and guests to tackle critical questions about how the current legal systems work, the intersections with social justice, and the efforts being made to reduce harm and collateral consequences for people directly impacted.

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