Changing California's 65% Recidivism Rate is 100% possible
Our re-entry program has a 0% recidivism rate.
0% compared to California’s 65%.
WE HAVE DEVELOPED AN INNOVATIVE, SUSTAINABLE, SELF-SUFFICIENT MODEL FOR PRISONER RE-ENTRY IN CALIFORNIA THAT ACTUALLY WORKS.
THE 5 KEYS TO OUR SUCCESS
1) START ON THE INSIDE:
One unique attribute of our re-entry program is that it starts inside the prison. Our partnership with the Insight Garden Program at San Quentin State Prison enables us to train prisoners in permaculture gardening work before they even make parole. By the time a PJ parolee leaves prison, they already know that they have a job waiting for them the next day with people they already know and trust. Especially for people who have been incarcerated for a very long time - our most recent re-entry hire was locked up for 20 years starting at age 17 - coming out is an incredibly difficult transition, especially in the first few weeks. Many have lost contact with relatives or friends who could offer them a place to stay or some help getting back on their feet. Establishing a healthy relationship between the parolee and the re-entry program before release can help stabilize that early transition.
2. LIVING WAGE JOBS:
If a formerly incarcerated person cannot get a legal job that pays enough for them to fully support themselves financially, they will have to find another way to survive. The unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated people in Oakland is 70% - think it’s a coincidence that the unemployment rate is the same as the recidivism rate? The #1 thing a person transitioning home from prison needs is a good job. We start all of our hires coming out of San Quentin at $17.50/hour - $5.25 higher than Oakland’s minimum wage. This living wage policy means our staff can depend on their job at Planting Justice to cover their rent, bills & necessities without needing to engage in the extra-legal economy to survive and advance financially. In an economy that systematically devalues, under-employs and underpays formerly incarcerated people, our $17.50/hour starting wage is a political statement that the labor of former prisoners is valuable and that their success and well-being is a worthy investment. A real living wage is a real incentive to show up for work every day and avoid things that could jeopardize the job.
3) PEER SUPPORT:
With over 50% formerly incarcerated staff (including former prisoners who did not come to us directly through a re-entry program), the struggle to recover from criminalization and incarceration is an experience that is shared by most people in our workplace. When a parolee leaves prison and joins our staff, they enter a workplace where their co-workers understand what they’re going through and are willing to go out of their way to support this person through their transition. Every week, we hold a peer support group for formerly incarcerated staffers called “Moving Forward.” Moving Forward is a space where formerly incarcerated staff can receive and provide support for each other on everything from rebuilding family relationships to opening a savings account. Working every day with other people who have successfully made the transition out of prison helps parolees in our program feel more confident that they too will be able to stay out of prison long-term.
4) PRIORITIZE HEALTH:
At Planting Justice, we know that the health & well being of our staff - which have been severely damaged throughout lifetimes of poverty and incarceration - is critical to our ability to keep doing this work sustainably. All of our full-time staff receive comprehensive health, vision & dental insurance, as well as generous sick days & paid time off. We also strategically invest resources in creating a “culture of wellness” at Planting Justice - offering workshops and seminars on everything from self care to long-term financial planning. While traditional re-entry programs (including parole) are focused on policing parolees behavior, we try to focus on supporting our re-entry staff to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and heal from the trauma of long-term incarceration. Our own program was devastated earlier this year when, after finally making it not just out of prison but off of parole for the first time in his adult life, our Transform Your Yard team leader Siddiqqi Osibin passed away in his sleep due to an unknown health issue. Given the enormous tolls that both early life poverty and long term imprisonment have already taken on folks by the time they leave prison, improving and maintaining the health of former prisoners should be a top priority for every re-entry program.
5) MEANINGFUL WORK & OPPORTUNITIES TO ADVANCE:
A job at Planting Justice isn’t just a paycheck - it’s an opportunity to be a part of a growing movement to transform our food system so that everyone has access to healthy food and the ability to live a long, healthy life. Can you imagine spending 10 years in prison, then coming out and getting paid a living wage to build vegetable gardens in the neighborhood you used to sell drugs in? Meaningful, community-serving work can help heal a formerly incarcerated person’s relationship to the neighborhood in a powerful way. We’ve watched men who’ve served hard time transform into impressive educators and skilled community organizers, inspiring classrooms full of Oakland teens to grow, cook and eat vegetables and signing up thousands of monthly donors to support Planting Justice’s work. After working with us (and staying out prison) for one year, the re-entry wage jumps from $17.50/hour up to $20/hour, and every department from landscaping to canvassing is geared towards developing formerly incarcerated workers’ leadership. Maurice Bell celebrated his one year anniversary with Planting Justice by becoming our first Media Apprentice, and now spends one day each week receiving training in everything from photography to editing to database management. Five years after leaving prison for the last time, Anthony Forrest has been promoted to a hybrid role as a Case Manager, Educator and Spokesperson at Planting Justice. In January, Anthony gave a presentation at the American Corrections Association national conference in Louisiana - presenting as an expert to the same people who had overseen his own confinement for over 25 years. I recently observed Anthony coaching a newer re-entry hire on how to ask for and negotiate a pay raise. It’s clear that our staff who originally came to us through the re-entry program and ultimately stayed to build careers at Planting Justice are our greatest asset and critically important mentors for each new parolee who enters our program. This is one of the most important paradigm shifts that must be made in the prisoner re-entry sector: we have to orient re-entry programs towards long-term investments in human beings instead of viewing parolees as numbers to shuffled around.