Making sure that young people who have been arrested have housing is the first step to keeping them out of prison. That is the contention of a coalition of partners in Chicago who want to change the trajectory of young people ages 18 to 24, mostly young men, who wind up in jail.
“Stabilizing their lives is the answer to public safety. It is violence prevention,” Amy Campanelli, vice president of Restorative Justice at the Lawndale Christian Legal Center, told The Center Square.
Campanelli, a former Chicago public defender, said giving arrestees a stable place to live and employment are the critical first steps.
“We can’t expect them to fight their case and get on a good trajectory when they are living on the streets or couch surfing and have no idea where they are going to sleep tonight. It’s not going to work,” she said.
A new program that began in June is providing apartments for young arrestees who are waiting for their cases to make their way through the courts. The goal is to keep them out of prison by giving them employment and a place to live.
The new housing program was put together by the Chicago Low-income Housing Trust Fund, the Bell Foundation and the LCLC.
Case managers from LCLC interview young offenders who are about to be released on bond to identify those who do not have a place to live.
“The number one support that most of the people we interview in jail everyday need is housing,” Campanelli said. “The need for employment is also critical.”
The young offender who needs a place to live goes through a qualification process. Their income cannot exceed $22,000 a year. Safe, up-to-code housing is provided with subsidies of 70% of the cost of the rent paid directly to the landlords by the Chicago Low-income Housing Trust Fund.
“We are actively looking for landlords,” Campanelli said. “Our case managers are directly involved and that is important for the landlords. The landlords know that they can call us if they ever have a problem.”
LCLC “wraps our arms around” the young offender with a whole menu of support services – including legal services, Campanelli said. LCLC helps with jobs and job skills. They have mentors in the trades and in the unions who work with the young people. If they need education or mental health counseling or substance abuse services – whatever they need, LCLC works within the community to find the help.
The idea is to tackle the problems that got the person in trouble in the first place so that they can stay out of prison.
“We want them to be successful while their cases are pending. We don’t want them to reoffend. We don’t want them to miss court. We want them to get on a better trajectory in their life,” Campanelli said.
As a public defender for more than 30 years, Campanelli is well aware of the limitations of law enforcement and the legal community, she said.
“We’ve got to get away from the fact that judges and prosecutors and defense attorneys and sheriffs and probation officers have the answers. They don’t have the answers,” Campanelli said. “They are not the community.”
The majority of people do not need to be incarcerated, Campanelli said.
“But there has to be money for the support.”
This article originally appeared on The Center Square.