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:
In August 2020, DRCPP founded The Covid Justice Coalition (CJC), a coalition of advocacy groups, to provide resources and guidance on the COVID-related needs of justice-involved individuals to local government agencies, advocacy groups, and other key stakeholders. Justice-involved individuals are extremely vulnerable to the health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and often lack access to basic resources upon reentry, while others continue to languish in jails and prisons struggling to respond to the pandemic.
In response, CJC has incorporated a COVID-19 response into the “Reentry From the Inside Out” Bill (RIO) to better assist justice-involved individuals by connecting them with nonprofit service providers six-months prior to release and launching a pilot program to link these individuals with nonprofits after release. The bill now also allows incarcerated individuals to receive a form of identification prior to their release so they can better begin the basic process of reentry. We have held rallies in Buffalo, NY, Edgecombe Correctional Facility, and Danbury Federal Prison asking for increased access to vaccinations and testing, the immediate end of solitary confinement as a means of medical quarantine and isolation, that corrections staff be disciplined when in violation of CDC protocols, and that releases be consistent with The Attorney General’s Directive on COVID-19 and CDC guidelines.
Most recently, CJC launched a campaign demanding that The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) offer vaccinations to the entire incarcerated population of New York. Many incarcerated people have seen or have themselves experienced substandard medical care, had their confidentiality breached, and are aware of the shameful history of medical experimentation on incarcerated people and people of color in the United States; therefore, we are asking that DOCCS use trusted, outside groups to administer vaccines and provide vaccine education, and make its current vaccination rates publicly available and broken down by facility, age, and race/ethnicity to help prevent potential inequities.
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.
In incidences of mass policing, incarceration, and arrest, policies have excessively impacted communities of low economic status and color. To date, 90% of people jailed consist of African-Americans or Hispanics, and 80% of individuals who leave NYC Department of Corrections facilities go into a shelter for at least a day after release. These individuals either have no financial stability to find housing right away or have no family to go to once released. In the circumstances when justice-involved individuals find the means to afford a housing property, they are once again policed in the process by landlords, real estate brokers, rental agencies, management companies, and other lessors.
DRCPP and the Institute for Justice and Opportunity alongside various other organizations advocate for an end to housing discrimination against justice-involved people. With 45% of the NYS population having an arrest or conviction record, the Fair Chance for Housing initiative seeks an amendment to the NYC Administrative Code Title 8, The New York City Human Rights Law. This bill currently includes protections for the formerly incarcerated in employment, but there is no mention of protection in the housing application process.
Learn more about this initiative by clicking here to view our Issue Brief.
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.
Of people on parole whom New York sent back to prison in 2018, over 5,700 or 65% were re-incarcerated for technical parole violations. In addition, Black people are incarcerated in New York City jails for technical parole violations at more than 12 times the rate of whites.
Less is More Act: Community Supervision Revocation Reform Act would be the elimination of incarceration as a form of punishment for most technical violations of parole, such as missing a meeting with a parole officer or showing up late for curfew.
Most incarcerated individuals do change over time and should be granted the possibility of rehabilitated freedom. Elder Parole address the fact that thousands of New Yorkers are serving prison sentences that amount to death-by-incarceration, even without an actual life sentence. In addition, Fair and Timely Parole aims to grant parole to all eligible people in prison.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.