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:
For individuals returning to the community following incarceration, securing safe and affordable housing is often the key to successful reentry. Due to societal stigmas and discriminatory housing policies, this can be an enormous challenge. Individuals impacted by the justice system often find that their criminal record prevents them from obtaining (or returning to) housing, whether in the private sector or in publicly supported housing.
Through our community education, policy reform, and direct services we have helped formerly incarcerated individuals find homes, and raised public awareness about the housing barriers many people still face.
DRCPP seeks to eradicate counterproductive, discriminatory, and unfair statutory and practical barriers to housing for people with criminal records. Examples of these efforts include: participating in coalitions working towards solutions on issues such as: the improvement of Three-Quarter Housing oversight/regulation and NYCHA Permanent Exclusion policies.
We are currently providing technical assistance to replicate the Fortune Academy, which provides both emergency and transitional housing to justice-involved individuals experiencing homelessness. Fortune is helping to create a national model of combined reentry and affordable housing.
We have also taken direct action by filing a federal lawsuit against the Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund and we hope the outcome of this lawsuit will help us move one step closer to having individuals with criminal justice histories receive the necessary rights and protections from housing discrimination that are so desperately needed.
Increasing access to opportunities for education for people incarcerated or impacted by the criminal justice system is a modest public investment that yields long-term benefits by helping individuals obtain employment, attain self-sufficiency, and pursue further education. Prison-based college and post-incarceration programs foster supportive learning communities, promote reductions in the likelihood of recidivism, and allow students to persist in making educational gains that promote a brighter future. Despite the success of the prior prison-based college and post-incarceration programs, public funding for these programs has mostly been unavailable, except on a pilot basis. This is largely due to Federal and state policymakers’ misguided spending cuts and counterproductive “tough on crime” policies. Further, some colleges and universities have yet to remove discriminatory policies that screen individuals based on criminal background. DRCPP works in partnership as part of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, the New York Reentry Education Network, the New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy (NYCCAL), and the Committee on Corrections and Community Reentry to propose policy recommendations that increase formerly incarcerated individuals’ access to education and prohibit blanket policies against college applicants with criminal records.
“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. These policies intend to give people with criminal histories a fairer chance at being hired. In New York City, the Fair Chance Act now prohibits prospective employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history prior to extending a conditional job offer. The implementation of these policies presents important questions: are these policies producing the intended results? Are more employers hiring people with justice involvement? Are employers finding ways to avoid adhering to the policies? We are in the process of gathering data as part of a ground-breaking research study with two main objectives: (1) to examine the hiring practices of New York City agencies in the context of Ban the Box; and (2) to document employer perspectives on Ban the Box. Although Ban the Box does not mandate employers to hire individuals with criminal records, it is an important tool to reduce illegal discrimination.
In the United States today, people owe local, state, and federal governments billions of dollars in unpaid debt related to contact with the criminal justice system. This debt stems from a system of Criminal Justice Financial Obligations (CJFOs) that is complex, vast, and growing. The consequences for non-payment in New York can result in incarceration, parole being extended or revoked, a civil judgment (which is public information), liens, wage/bank account garnishing, tax rebate interception, driver’s license suspension, business license revocation, suspension, or denial of renewal, or any combination thereof. New York State has more than 120 CJFO-related statutes, a significant number of which are mandatory and cannot be waived by judges for inability to pay. While the issue of fines, fees, and their deleterious effects on individuals and communities is starting to emerge in national discourse, to truly advance sound policy in this domain, we need to understand the personal realities of having criminal justice debt.
To that end, The Fortune Society partnered with a researcher from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY to learn more about the following research questions: (1) what is the experience of having criminal justice debt? (2) how does criminal justice debt affect family relations? (3) what is the relationship between criminal justice debt and the goals of reentry?
Gaining an intimate understanding of the role of criminal justice debt plays in our clients’ lives is an important first step in reversing the policies that cause it. DRCPP engages in advocacy efforts to change laws and policies to ensure that people who have had contact with the criminal justice system have a fair chance to succeed as full community members with a coalition of advocates called CORA: Coalition of Reentry Advocates.
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.
The discussion of criminal justice issues is often driven by individuals with little direct experience with the system, providing a skewed view that doesn’t reflect the problems faced by those involved. DRCPP aims to bridge this gap by providing opportunities to individuals with justice involvement and criminal justice experts to educate the public. Advocacy events and conferences hosted by The Fortune Society increase the diversity of voices in the criminal justice reform movement, allowing those with relevant experience to articulate the issues and advocate for positive change.
One of these efforts is Both Sides of the Bars, a monthly talk show that airs on select television stations nationwide. Hosted by our Associate Vice President of Policy, Khalil A. Cumberbatch, the program provides a platform for expert guests to tackle critical questions about how the current system works, its intersections with social justice, and the efforts being made to improve those impacted.