The Return: A Documentary about Prisoners’ Return to Family Life at http://www.documentary.org/online-feature/reform-reentry-and-return
This week, Human Rights Watch sponsored a showing of this thoughtful examination of life after prison. It follows the lives of two prisoners released from life sentences and their re-integration into family and community life. One makes it, and the other is still struggling with mental illness and addiction by the story’s end.
The back-drop is California’s three strikes law (Proposition 186) which resulted in mass incarcerations for 25 years to life of boys and men of color, often for drug and drug-related crimes. After the federal courts repeatedly held that California’s prisons had to be upgraded to meet the constitutional prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, California’s Proposition 36 reformed the standards for lifetime sentences for non-violent, drug offenders. See http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/Three-Strikes-Amendment-Couzens-Bigelow.pdf and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_36_%282000%29 California’s Proposition 47 downgraded certain non-violent, non-serious crimes to misdemeanors which further reduced state prison populations. https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_47,_Reduced_Penalties_for_Some_Crimes_Initiative_(2014)
So what has happened to the lives of the men being released and their families. As with the deinstitutionalization of mental health hospitals 50 years earlier, there has been little in the way of community services to help the men reintegrate into society. “The Return” tells the stories of two men who were released, of the Stanford Law Project that worked for their release, of the judges hearing their cases, of the available treatment services to assist in re-integration, and of the impacts on prisoner’s families.
The Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid 2020 waiver (approved in 2015) now provide funding for behavioral health services in the community to low-income adults. Local implementation of drug and alcohol treatment is now possible, but it is still under-developed and spotty in too many California communities.
Proposition 57 on this November’s state ballot seeks to expand rehabilitation services in state prisons that that will allow for earlier release for good behavior and allow judges rather than prosecutors to decide whether a juvenile should be tried in adult criminal courts or in juvenile courts. https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_57,_Parole_for_Non-Violent_Criminals_and_Juvenile_Court_Trial_Requirements_(2016)
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin
Date: September 28, 2016