A man wearing a face mask uses hand sanitizer while sitting at a desk

BOSTON – Community Resources for Justice is urging state lawmakers to maintain funding for community-based residential reentry programs as the COVID-19 pandemic poses new challenges for formerly incarcerated men and women working to restart their lives in Massachusetts communities.

CRJ leaders have held two video conference briefings, one in June and one in July, for state legislators, providing updates on services during the pandemic, and asking them to support $8.1 million in funding for residential reentry.  State budget line item 0339-1011 supports 146 community-based residential reentry beds in Boston, Springfield, New Bedford, and Fall River.

Program residents receive support to overcome barriers that can derail their transition home, including help obtaining an ID, housing, employment, and connections to substance use and mental health treatment.

A woman wearing a face mask works at a computer. COVID-19 prompted efforts to move people out of jails and prisons, increasing the need for reentry services to help them make the transition, including many with no home to return to or means of earning money to secure one. Reentry programs adapted to challenges from the pandemic, finding new ways to increase opportunities for returning individuals while also working to keep resident and staff safe and healthy.

Through the height of the crisis in Massachusetts, participants in CRJ’s reentry programs maintained high levels of employment, even as the economy ground to a near standstill and unemployment claims soared. Of those who successfully completed their stay in a program from April 1 through June 30, 52% left with a job. Additionally, 77% left with stable housing.

Three-quarters of those who completed their stay successfully also received substance use treatment and 37% received medication-assisted treatment, continuing their path to recovery.

Strong partnerships with community organizations helped programs deliver critical services. Fathers’ Uplift, a Boston nonprofit organization, provided virtual mental health services, and the Boston Area Mask Initiative donated 250 cloth masks to supplement the programs’ supplies of personal protective equipment. There Is A Solution on the South Coast stepped forward to open a new program when needs were high for individuals returning to communities in the region after incarceration.

For decades, the Massachusetts budget provided minimal support for community-based residential reentry Colored letters arranged on the front door of McGrath House to say "Boston Strong. Stay Inside. Stay Safe."programs. That changed in 2018 when state legislators established a new line item investing $5 million in reentry services in the wake of sweeping criminal justice reform and a wave of advocacy led by CRJ, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement officials, community organizations, and others. Funding reached $8.1 million in the budget year that ended July 1.

Maintaining that level of funding in the fiscal year 2021 budget would keep existing programs running strong, accommodate additional needs created by the COVID pandemic, and allow for potential expansion of community-based residential reentry services into areas that currently lack them, including the Merrimack Valley and Worcester.