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Elain Ellerbe | July 20, 2018
Photo by Brett Duke, Nola.com
As a member of the Governor’s Justice Reinvestment Oversight Council, I attended the community Request for Proposal (RFP) information meeting held by the Louisiana Department of Corrections last week. The purpose of the meeting was to provide information to the organizations interested in applying for the Justice Reinvestment (JRI) funding that is now available due to the criminal justice reforms enacted in 2017. As pointed out by this Times Picayune article, while the availability of funding already after a one-year period is encouraging, there are a number of concerns about the RFP process and requirements being imposed that have community-based organizations concerned.
Having founded and led my own non-profit for over 25 years, I am extremely aware that the current RFP requirements will be so onerous that it will likely prohibit application from smaller non-profits in the target communities that are likely already doing the work that is so needed to assist individuals to reintegrate into society. These smaller community-based organizations are the very ones that the Department of Corrections has said throughout the Justice Reinvestment Initiative discussions they wanted to make sure had a chance to apply.
Given the requirements of the State that any contract or grant over the $49,999 threshold must go through the Bid Procurement process, there is a danger that only large non-profits, law enforcement, district attorneys and the Judiciary will win out for funding due to their already established infrastructure. The DOC should therefore take steps with appropriate state agencies to ensure that some sort of waiver or workaround can be utilized so that the small-scale, community-based organizations – those doing the hard day-to-day work of helping individuals returning from prison to adjust to their new circumstances – have the opportunity to pursue reinvestment funds as the 2017 legislation, and the JRI model as a whole, intend.
Any such waiver should specifically seek to address whether there are organizations in the five target parishes of Caddo, Jefferson, Orleans, East Baton Rouge, and St. Tammany that not only have the capacity, but also have the “in the trenches” expertise needed to implement successful reentry programming. And if there are not sufficient organizations meeting these criteria now, what can be done to build this capacity going forward? Speaking from experience once again, working with incarcerated populations is a very unique form of work. Over the years, research has shown that using a “one-size-fits-all” human services approach to assisting incarcerated populations has not been very effective.
For example, while an organization might have specifically worked with only homeless or at-risk youth, not having hands-on experience of going into a prison to provide services or knowledge of the criminal justice system will surely hamper the effectiveness of the programs and not serve the needs of the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated populations.
I do feel it is important to acknowledge that the implementation of the Justice Reinvestment reforms along with the distribution of the realized savings is new territory for the Department of Corrections and they have done a great job thus far being transparent and open with data and information. Hopefully, after this first year of experience revisions and adjustments can be made to make the process more user friendly and ensure the best programs are being funded and implemented.
One adjustment I would highly recommend is utilizing the Governor’s Justice Reinvestment Oversight Council to provide input, advice, and recommendations to the Department of Corrections, which is what the Council was commissioned to do, according to the executive order creating it. Up to this point, the Council has just been utilized as an audience to hear reports with little opportunity for substantive feedback. Based on shared sentiments of other Council members, all of whom have in-depth expertise in criminal justice matters, we all want to be actively engaged and allowed to contribute to the process.
As intended, we are prepared to advise on implementation, problem solve, and make recommendations on the best uses for reinvestment dollars. Hopefully, the Department of Corrections will make the best possible use of the valuable resource they have in the members of the Oversight Council by seeking out the most fruitful avenues for continued collaboration.