ARC & COVID-19: Offices Physically Closed, Our Work Continues
For the health and safety of ARC staff and members, we made the tough decision of closing the Los Angeles and Sacramento offices on March 13, 2020, and they will remain closed until public health officials determine it is safe to reopen. We simultaneously suspended all Hope & Redemption programming inside state prisons, county jails, and juvenile justice facilities. Our two transitional housing sites remain open and fully operational, as does Ventura Training Center, where we provide life skills coaching for fire cadets.
Re-Entry Services Now Online
Reentry case management is still available to our members, although we have shifted to providing most of our services virtually, including individual therapy via secured phone and web conference lines. Support groups including but not limited to Healthy Relationships, Seeking Safety, etc. have been moved online where possible. All channels of communication at ARC are still open, including our internal/external Facebook and social media pages, telephone lines, and incoming mail. Moving forward, we hope to use this time to conduct intensive outreach and engagement to determine the pressing needs of our membership and how best to support them through this time.
Housing Sites Operational, Sheltering In Place
Both of our transitional housing sites, Bromont and Magnolia, are fully staffed and operational, with our residents sheltering in place. We understand that housing is especially important in these challenging times, when employment insecurity can often lead to homelessness. We are committed to integrating our member services and workforce development programs into our housing programs to give all of our members the best chance to thrive. Our residential Ventura Training Center fire program is still operating, as well, in compliance with CalFire and Ventura County safety guidelines. This is especially important with another potentially devastating fire season around the corner, along with the expectation that emergency personnel will be overtasked with the pandemic.
Apprenticeship Readiness Program Virtual Classroom
We are also working closely with Southwest College and the Los Angeles Building Trades Union to create a virtual classroom for our Apprenticeship Readiness Program so that we can continue to graduate men and women from this program and keep them on track (with a 73% placement rate among previous cohorts of the program) for placement into union construction jobs.
We Serve Our Members, Inside Institutions and in the Free World
Despite the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presents, ARC continues to work to compassionately serve our members with wraparound reentry support. In fact, we believe it is more important than ever to bolster services for communities that are particularly vulnerable to health crises. Our policy advocacy team is paying close attention to the health and safety of our incarcerated community members. Jail and prison conditions – particularly in California, the state with the third largest prison population – require that administrators create contingency plans to safeguard those inside who do not have freedom of movement or access to adequate medical care in the case of a public health emergency. We are in close contact with CDCR as well as leadership from individual institutions to monitor the spread of COVID-19 inside and to advocate for the health and safety of those incarcerated.
Our Policy and Reentry Work Around COVID-19
Over the last few weeks, ARC joined with other criminal justice reform advocates to develop recommendations for Governor Newsom and public officials, including a plan for, at minimum, compassionate release for elderly incarcerated people, those with serious underlying health conditions, and those housed in pre-trial detention that do not pose a public safety risk. Just this week, Governor Newsom announced the expedited release of up to 3,500 incarcerated people to combat the spread of coronavirus in prisons. Individuals released under this plan will need the support of organizations like ARC for transitional housing, employment, mental health services, and other reentry services to facilitate successful community reintegration. We are working on preparing our services and working with other CBO’s to ensure that robust resources exist to support those who are coming home during this time, and so that our existing formerly incarcerated members who are currently experiencing employment, housing, and financial insecurity have their basic needs met.
In addition to in-person resources, we have held Zoom ARC All-Member Check-In’s, weekly Virtual Fireside Chat webinars for our larger community, and various program and group Zoom meetings such as our Policy Advocacy Workshop and Women’s and Non-Binary Services. We have also worked with CDCR to produce uplifting, supportive videos to disseminate to men and women inside, and are currently producing a video course of our Criminals and Gang Members Anonymous (CGA) rehabilitative programming that will also be available to those inside in lieu of our in-person Hope and Redemption Team programming. These videos will be made available throughout the state via institutional television channels, enabling us to serve even greater numbers of incarcerated men and women even during the lockdown.
ARC is working closely with existing and new agency and CBO partners to adapt our programming and protect the health and wellbeing of our incarcerated and formerly incarcerated communities at this time. In March, we signed onto letters of recommendation to Governor Newsom as well as Los Angeles County leadership with partners including The Justice Collaborative, Smart Justice California, ACLU, Color of Change, and others. We are also working closely with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), including state officials, wardens, and Community Resource Managers (CRMs) at each facility to monitor health conditions and distribute programming and virtual support to those inside. Finally, we continue to partner with our programmatic and workforce development partners including Southwest College and the Miguel Contreras Foundation to find remote learning solutions for our Apprenticeship Readiness Program, which provides living wages for all of our participants.