When the Rev. Damita Davis-Howard’s son was released from his incarceration in 2014, he sought to rebuild his life. He moved in with his young son, his son’s mother, and her family, and attempted to be the father he himself had not had since his own had passed away when he was 13.
Unfortunately, the new living arrangement lasted only one year, when he was informed by the Oakland Housing Authority that he must vacate the premises due to an OHA policy that does not allow convicted felons to live in public housing.
Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Davis-Howard talks about the ramifications of the policy and the impact it has had on her son. “Leaving a home he shared with his 7-month-old son was heartbreaking,” she recounts. “… Unfortunately, he had no recourse—the housing authority had spoken.”
Since his eviction, Davis-Howard says her son has been homeless, and has struggled to find employment.
A recent advisement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests that private landlords may be subject to discrimination laws for denying housing based solely on felony convictions. Such is not the case for public housing.
“Public housing authorities should be on the forefront of providing housing to all individuals and should facilitate people’s reentry into their communities upon their release from prison,” Davis-Howard asserts. “… Public housing authorities can improve community safety and reduce recidivism by providing formerly incarcerated folks the opportunity to have housing and stability.”
“The Long Road Home: Decreasing Barriers to Public Housing for People with Criminal Records,” a report produced by Human Impact Partners and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, looks at some of the far reaching ramifications of denying housing to former prisoners. “Lacking stable housing negatively affects mental and physical health, employment, income, access to healthcare services, family unity, and recidivism,” the report says. It advises that mitigating factors be allowed to be presented on behalf of the potential tenant, including being able to join existing family in public housing.
“Housing is a human right,” Davis-Howard concludes, “and all public housing authorities have a moral obligation to eliminate the unnecessary barriers that are keeping families apart.”
Housing is but one of many interconnected challenges that men and women with criminal records must tackle. There are over 44,000 legal restrictions challenges they must face—from housing, to licensing, to volunteering, or even voting in an election—just to be able to become a productive and contributing member of their communities. This “second prison” punishes these people long after they have paid their debt for past crimes, and often pushes them back toward the bad behaviors that landed them in prison in the first place.
The Second Prison Project seeks to eliminate this second prison, allowing men and women with criminal records to give back to society. Through acts of advocacy, service, and leadership, the Second Prison Project hopes to change perceptions of these people allowing them to use their gifts to benefit those around them. To learn more about the Second Prison Project, and how you can be a part of unlocking second chances, visit https://secondprison.org/.