Homelessness and Incarceration

homelessness, mass incarceration

In the United States, ex-prisoners are more vulnerable to homelessness than those who have not been incarcerated.  According to a report published by the Vera Institute of Justice, 30-50% of all people under parole supervision in the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco are homeless.  The authors of the report, Nino Rodriguez and Brenner Brown, note that there are “…three main factors [that] contribute to and complicate homelessness among people leaving prison. First, ex-offenders face the same social and economic conditions that lead to homelessness among the general population. Ex- offenders returning to the community also confront barriers to housing associated with their criminal justice system involvement. Finally, there is a lack of ownership of the problem among government agencies and community organizations.” (The report can be found at: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/vera/209_407.pdf).

Ex-offenders, especially those with felony charges on their records, face barriers when trying to secure housing and employment.  BAN THE BOX is an organization campaigning to end employment discrimination against those who have been convicted or imprisoned by abolishing the box on employment applications that asks job seekers to disclose any past convictions.

In addition, according  to a report by the Wall Street Journal, most ex-convicts are STILL unable to live in public housing after their release from prison due to archaic rules established in the 1990s.  The War on Drugs gave birth to federal rules that do not allow former criminals with specific drug charges (for example producing methamphetamines) to reside in public housing.  Many local housing authorities and states impose additional restrictions on public housing applicants.  These rules lead to the exclusion of ex-prisoners from public housing.  For more on the relationship between mass incarceration and homelessness, check out Dr. Michelle Alexander’s exceptional book, The New Jim Crow (2012).

People who are experiencing homeless are more likely to be arrested or re-arrested.  In a 2002 ethnographic study of incarceration rates of homeless men in San Francisco and St. Louis, researcher Teresa Gowan found that: “…crimes of desperation, aggressive policing of status offenses, and the close proximity of many ex-cons created a strong likelihood of incarceration and re-incarceration. Conversely, for jail and prison inmates, time inside consistently eroded employability, family ties,and other defences against homelessness: several of the men had become homeless for the first time directly following release from a carceral establishment…each trajectory reinforced the other, creating a homelessness/incarceration cycle more powerful than the sum of its parts, a racialized exclusion/punishment nexus which germinates, isolates, and perpetuates lower-class male marginality.”

The link between incarceration and homelessness is troubling.  There are many government and non-government agencies and organizations working to assist ex-prisoners in securing housing, employment, and supportive services.  Project Greenlight in New York, COMPASS in Rhode Island, and Tennessee Bridges in Tennessee are three of the many organizations across the country trying to implement innovative approaches to decreasing homelessness for ex-prisoners.


The Throwaways

homelessness, mass incarceration, personal experience

The Throwaways is a documentary that chronicles the life and experiences of Ira McKinley, an activist documentarian whose interactions with police brutality, mass incarceration, and homelessness have led him to produce excellent work that illustrates the urgency of these racial justice issues.  This is a “must see” film for anyone interested in policing policies, mass incarceration, homelessness, and inequality.  The film features interviews from local activists in the Capital Region of New York State, as well as interviews from scholar Michelle Alexander.

Click here to visit the official website of the film.  The Throwaways has won numerous awards and is now touring the country, so check the website to see if a viewing will be coming soon to a theater near you!

Corporations that Profit Off of Mass Incarceration

homelessness, mass incarceration

Homelessness is not a one dimensional issues. People who are chronically or temporarily homeless are often faced with many other barriers to wellness, happiness, and housing. Some of these barriers (put into place and reaffirmed by social mores, government policies, economic policies, political actors, and American citizens) include, but are not limited to: mental health issues, domestic violence, physical health problems and lack of health insurance, the specialized problems of those returning home from military service, and finally incarceration.

Many people who experience homelessness have at one time in their lives been incarcerated.  Once an individual has a record of incarceration in America, they are barred from many basic citizenship rights and activities–in some places they are not allowed to vote; most job applications ask about criminal and incarceration histories, making employment even more difficult; and both the public and private housing sectors discriminate against people who have been incarcerated.  Some (not all, but some) social sector organizations that assist people experiencing homelessness do not assist those with a criminal record, either formally or informally. (For some organizations this is a formal policy related to funding, and for other organizations, the people who are the “front line” contacts for people experiencing homelessness employ discouraging practices that make it clear that incarcerated individuals are not welcome–similar to the use of micro aggressions).

If you are unfamiliar with the epidemic of mass incarceration that is targeting young Americans of color (especially African American and Latino boys and men), I would recommend reading Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow (2012, The New Press).  There are many corporations that profit off of mass incarceration, and a recent publication to Truthout.org and an episode of the Bill Moyers Show shed light on those who are making billions off of this enterprise.  CLICK HERE to read the full article on BillMoyers.com.  The Bill Moyers piece was brought to my attention by my amazing mother, Dorothy, who is actively working for change for people experiencing homelessness! Thank you Mom!

In short, the five companies that are making the most money off of mass incarceration are:

1) The Corrections Corporation of America

2) The GEO group

3) Turner Construction (a subsidiary of the German construction company Hochtief)

4) BI Incorporated (electronics manufacturing)

5) Aramark (food service production)

There are many more corporations and products listed on Billmoyers.com that are mind-blowing when read up on extensively, as the profit figures of these corporations are staggering and some of the companies produce goods and services that the average American consumer (and the average American business person) could use.  While some of the aforementioned names of corporations and companies listed above may look unfamiliar, upon closer inspection they make products and services that are everywhere! For example, Turner construction has built headquarters for companies like Boeing and the RAND research group, and Aramark also supplies food to company offices and some school districts! AHHH!!  So, if you’re invested in some of these corporations and interested in decreasing homelessness in America, please divest ASAP and avoid supporting such a monstrous agenda!