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Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable

November 2016

New Roundtable Planning Council Members! 

At the last Planning Council meeting, Chair Helen Gaebler presented outgoing officers Laura Sovine and Darwin Hamilton with certificates of appreciation. We also welcomed three new Planning Council members! We'd like to extend a warm welcome to:
The Planning Council is looking forward to a great year! Thank you to everyone who served and everyone who is just joining the Planning Council! 

Local Reentry News

Housing Barriers Conversation Gets Moving at UT Opportunity Forum

On October 28th, the UT Opportunity Forum hosted a panel on Criminal History as a Barrier to Housing Access focused on how Austin/Travis County can improve access to affordable housing for persons with a criminal backgrounds. Helen Gaebler, Planning Council Chair, served as moderator. Sara Pratt from Relman, Dane & Colfax in Washington DC provided an overview of federal fair housing guidance regarding landlords’ use of criminal records to screen tenants, and Bruce Reilly, Deputy Director of Voice of the Experienced shared innovative work going on in New Orleans to reduce barriers and increase housing access for individuals with criminal histories. Local panelists Greg Casar (Austin City Council, District 4); Fred Fuchs (Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid); and David Mintz (Texas Apartment Association) discussed options for local action as well as potential opportunities and challenges for implementation. Slides and photos from the event will be available on the Opportunity Forum website soon. If you haven’t had a chance to read the report yet, you can access it here

Just Leadership USA Emerging Leader's Training

Just Leadership USA believes that America’s most challenging barrier to expansive, systemic criminal and juvenile justice reform is the absence of clear and consistent leadership by those who have been directly affected by criminal justice policies. Through Emerging Leaders trainings and a 12-month Leading with Conviction training, JLUSA is building a nationwide network of advocates and organizers united by a shared vision for justice reform.

All Emerging Leaders participants must have prior involvement with the criminal justice system (juvenile and/or criminal justice involvement is required to be eligible and includes but is not limited to: actual incarceration [served time in jail and/or prison], arrest with or without conviction, under community supervision, i.e. parole, sentenced to probation-only, and involvement as a client in the juvenile justice system).

While not required, participants with the following characteristics are most successful and gain most from Emerging Leaders training:

  • Are members, employees or clients in-good-standing with a regional partnership organization.
  • Have a demonstrated track record of leadership within their community.
  • Are committed to ongoing leadership development and expansion beyond the emerging leadership training itself.
  • Are committed to systemic criminal and juvenile justice reform.
  • Have at least one year from date of release of previous incarceration so as to be able to take full advantage of JLUSA’s investment in their leadership development.
Click Here to Register

UT Front Porch Gathering Series: Affordability and Reentry 

The University of Texas Division of Diversity and Community Engagement is hosting a new Front Porch Gathering series that will focus on issues of importance to East Austin. Designed to activate more than just dialogue, the Front Porch Gatherings connect research and resources with engaged community organizations and community members to identify strategies, align efforts, and foster collaborative relationships. Each session works to address issues of equity, disparity, and access through active engagement. There will be a Front Porch Gathering: Affordability and Reentry in November.  
  • Date: Tuesday, November 15th
  • Time: 6:30pm
  • Location: Mt. Zion Church - 2938 E. 13th St

Other News and Opportunities

Transit Empowerment Fund Seeking Demonstration Project Letters of Interest

The Transit Empowerment Fund (TEF) Board seeks letters of interest (LOI) for 12-36 month transportation demonstration projects designed to address transportation gaps for low-income transit dependent populations within Travis County. The Board is interested in learning about pilot or demonstration projects designed to create sustainable and systemic improvements, leverage resources and create collaborations to solve shared transportation challenges. More information can be found here. The deadline for submission is Friday November 11th. Email Sam Woollard at with any questions.

The Affordable Care Act & Potential for Justice-Involved Individuals

The Affordable Care Act offers opportunities to improve the health care options of the 6.7 million individuals involved in the U.S. criminal justice system each year. Sarah Somers of the National Health Law Program, Jennie Sutcliffe of the Shriver Center, and Katy Welter of the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice write about these opportunities in this month's Clearinghouse article, "Unlocking the Affordable Care Act's Potential for Justice-Involved Individuals".

"Access to health care services for the justice-involved population can help avoid, shorten, or enable the transition out of incarceration. The Affordable Care Act expands eligibility for public health insurance and authorizes subsidies to purchase private policies, making it much more likely that justice-involved individuals can obtain health care coverage and health care before and after incarceration. Most important, the Affordable Care Act gives states the option to expand eligibility to most adults with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. This means that millions of uninsured adults now have access to Medicaid coverage, which has the potential to improve health, save public money, and reduce levels of incarceration." 
Read the Full Article Here

 Reshaping the Texas Prison System for Greater Public Safety

Five Texas Prisoners Write a Blueprint for an Improved Prison System 

The Marshall Project released an article about five Texas prisoners who offered up what they would do differently if they were in charge of prisons. "Aaron Flaherty is serving a life sentence — for his role as the getaway driver during a 1997 convenience store robbery-murder — at the Darrington Unit, in rural east Texas, where he is enrolled in a seminary program. Two years ago, he began corresponding with Wolf Sittler, a furniture maker in Austin. 'We’d throw ideas back and forth' about prison reform, says Sittler, himself a former probation officer. Sittler encouraged Flaherty to write his suggestions down, and then he received a 65-page report, 'Reshaping the Texas Prison System for Greater Public Safety,' written by Flaherty along with David Graham, Michael Smith, William Jones, and Vondre Cash. They have named their group the 'Responsible Prison Project.' 'It has often been said that those who are closest to a problem are closest to its solution,' Flaherty writes. 'That is no less true of prisoners.' Among the areas where they would make changes are: Arrival, Commissary, Food, Solitary Confinement, Visitation and Behavior and Clothing." To read the Marshall Project article click here. For the full 65-page report click the button below. 
Read the Full Report Here
Upstanders—Breaking the Prison Pipeline

Don't miss Upstanders Episode 5: Breaking the Prison Pipeline

A former inmate embarks on a quest to keep previously incarcerated individuals from returning to prison. Click the image above to watch the video!

HUD Publication Outlines Promising Reentry Housing Models

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has released another document in support of relaxing restrictions on access to public and federally subsidized housing for people with criminal records. Released in June 2016, HUD’s most recent resource on the topic, It Starts With Housing: Public Housing Agencies Are Making Second Chances Real, highlights three communities around the country that have proactively tackled the issue of reentry and access to affordable housing.

Access to safe, stable, affordable housing is a key component in successful reentry. As HUD Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramirez states, “The unfortunate reality is that the first question many face when exiting the door from prison to freedom is, ‘Where am I going to sleep tonight?’”

It Starts With Housing encourages public housing authorities (PHAs) to collaborate with partners to “make second chances real for the men and women returning” from jail and prison. Successful sample policies and program designs from the King County Housing Authority in Washington, the Burlington Housing Authority in Vermont, and the New York City Housing Authority, can help other communities build their own reentry programs.

It Starts With Housing comes on the heels of other guidance from HUD on access to public and other forms of federally-subsidized housing for people with criminal records: Guidance on the Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records (published in April 2016), which states that using one’s criminal record as the basis for denying access to housing may be a violation of the Fair Housing Act; Guidance for PHAs on Excluding the Use of Arrest Records in Housing Decisions, published in November 2015; and the companion FAQ on that guidance, released in March 2016.

DOJ Says Landlords Cannot Use Overly Broad Generalizations When Screening Applicants for Criminal Records

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest that argues the Fair Housing Act does not permit landlords to use overly broad generalizations that disproportionately impact protected classes of people when screening applicants’ criminal records. The statement of interest was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Fortune Society Inc. v. Sandcastle Towers Housing Development Fund Corp. et al. The Fortune Society, a non-profit organization that provides and helps locate housing for formerly incarcerated individuals, brought the lawsuit to challenge the screening policy of a housing provider in Queens, NY that advertised it did not accept people with criminal records.
“This filing demonstrates the Justice Department’s steadfast commitment to removing discriminatory barriers that prevent formerly incarcerated individuals from restarting their lives,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Women and men who served their time and paid their debt to society need a place to live, yet unlawful housing policies can too often prevent successful reentry to their communities. While not all criminal records policies adopted by landlords violate the Fair Housing Act, we will take action when they do."
The Fortune Society is a member of the Reentry and Housing Coalition, which is working to ensure justice-involved individuals have access to housing.
Read the Justice Department's Release

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Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable · Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable · 3308 Treadsoft Cove · Austin, TX 78748 · USA

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