Why releasing prisoners with no support is a bad plan

“To think I’d have Post-Prison Education Program helping me on the street, it changed my situation and it made it more palatable. I’ve never had anybody help me on the outside before, because of my choices and how I acted. I haven’t had that support in 12 years and it’s really incredible.”

Travis, on being imprisoned amid COVID-19 and having the Post-Prison Education Program working for him, from our most recent newsletter

Last Thanksgiving, we met Travis inside the Washington State Penitentiary. For months since, we have worked for him unendingly as he prepared for release into a world devastated by COVID-19 ─ a process that has proven to be an unpredictable rollercoaster.

Travis’ original housing plan fell through when the transition house he expected to live in voted collectively to refuse new tenants, a needed measure to support two immunocompromised residents. One of our staff, Taylor Buck, turned the world upside down, leaving no stone unturned to find alternative housing within 48 hours. One week later, Ari drove to Shelton to pick Travis up from the Department of Corrections’ Washington Corrections Center and from there to Bellingham to begin a new life.

This level of support is uncommon for most prisoners, who all too often are given only $40 and the clothes on their back as they release into nothingness (no job, no clothing, no groceries, no money, no hope). In reality, they most often need at least $1,500 in financial support during their first two days in order to establish a stable base (housing, groceries, bus passes, clothes, etc., etc.).

Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced his plan to release 1,100 prisoners. It is unclear which of those people – if any – will have adequate support following release. Travis’ experience brought to light the question, “Will we be releasing people into nothingness, with nowhere to go, exacerbating problems with community health care systems, homeless services and housing providers?”

We know conditions inside Washington State prisons and beyond are increasingly dangerous, and that it is critical that the Department of Corrections release the medically vulnerable and those nearing the end of their sentence. To succeed, those who are released must have meaningful support, support Washington State has given no indication of providing.

The Post-Prison Education Program is working harder than ever to support applicants and students faced with the effects of COVID-19. Colleges have moved online, public transportation is limited, jobs are hard to find, and in-person connection, as we all know, is difficult. Nevertheless, as our students face massive barriers we continue to offer significant support and resources. Recently, we worked with the Washington State Department of Corrections to move 12 racks with 254 suits from our clothing room to the Washington Corrections Center and are in the process of moving baby and children’s clothes donated by Google employees in Kirkland, Washington for the women in the baby program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women.

Supporting current and former prisoners during this time continues to be our mission, day in and day out. It is something we cannot do without your help. Reentry support for those released is more important now than ever. Travis’ story in the recent Crosscut Op-Ed makes it clear releasing prisoners with wholly inadequate resources is a bad idea for everyone, all the way around.

With your support, we will continue to deliver the wraparound services needed for current and former prisoners to build lives worth living for themselves and their families. Doing so has never been more important than now.