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Workgroup recommends less jail, better coordination, and healing for people living with criminal history

A City Workgroup, led by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, was tasked with finding better ways to help people living with criminal history. The Workgroup recommends that the City invest in healing practices to address incarceration-related trauma, offer more support for those living with criminal history, and move away from using the criminal legal system to address the root causes of systemic racism, poverty, and mental health needs.

The recommendations are part of a report by the City of Seattle Reentry Workgroup, which was established by the City Council in December 2015 to identify obstacles that prevent success for those living with criminal history and to develop policies and strategies that would strengthen the City’s efforts to assist with reentry after incarceration.

“You can offer education, a job, a house, but if you aren’t fixing what’s inside the shell—none of that will matter. There is significant work that needs to be done to heal from trauma created by incarceration, to shape a healthy identity, foster a sense of belonging, and develop a connection to a supportive community, said George Farrell, a Reentry Workgroup member and member of the Standing Rock Lakota Tribe.

“The Workgroup first developed a foundation of shared principles that allowed them to then draft these recommendations,” said Erika Pablo, Civil Rights Policy Advisor. “They developed these recommendations by centering racial equity and those with lived experience.”

The workgroup is composed of individuals with lived experience of the criminal legal system, City and County representatives, and representatives from Career Bridge at Urban League, Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together, Casa Latina, Disability Rights Washington, Pioneer Human Services, Public Defender Association, Voices of Community Activists and Leaders, Chief Seattle Club, Columbia Legal Services, University of Washington, King County, Seattle Human Services Department, Seattle Office of Housing, Seattle City Attorney’s Office, Seattle Municipal Court, and Seattle City Council.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Invest in specific strategies that center and support the reentering Indigenous community.
  • Support development and growth of community-rooted programs and networks that help formerly incarcerated individuals to successful reentry.
  • Invest in and support economic opportunities for individuals living with criminal history.
  • Make sure that the City invests in diverse housing for people living with criminal history.
  • Reduce the use of jail except where incarceration is required by law, and update jail contracts to reflect the City’s aspirations to end homelessness, reduce the detention of youth, and apply the principles of the Reentry Workgroup (see page 3 of the report).
  • Move away from relying on the criminal legal system to address poverty and health inequities and instead develop responses that do not burden individuals with criminal history or the trauma of incarceration.

The report and its recommendations represent an intensive collaborative process that highlights knowledge gained from those who have direct experience of leaving prison and living with criminal history.

“If the City adopts the recommendations in this report, the City would make significant progress in reducing the harms of the criminal legal system and at the same time invest in the community’s own ability to recover from the impacts of mass incarceration,” Mr. Farrell said.

For a copy of the report, visit the Seattle Office for Civil Rights Web page and to view the Seattle City Council briefing, visit the Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee Lunch & Learn.