TODAY’S PEACE & JUSTICE SUMMIT CONSIDERS RE-ENTRY ISSUES OF EARLY-RELEASED PRISONERSBy Dave Wielenga
The Long Beach Community Peace & Justice Summit convenes this morning in the Seaside Ballroom of the Convention & Entertainment Center, where challenges and opportunities presented by the early release of perhaps 30,000 prisoners in California will be identified, discussed and, perhaps, even solved.
Admission is free, and not only open to the public, but enthusiastically welcoming—free childcare and lunch will be provided—inasmuch as the very purpose of the Summit is to educate the community about the many issues involved with this massive re-entry of incarcerated people into the mainstream.
For a long time, California’s overcrowded prisons have been bubbles waiting to burst. A few years ago they were packed with more than twice as many people than they were designed to contain. The dangerous living conditions and horrible health care prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to order that the prison population be reduced. But it seems to have been the state’s ongoing budget crisis that prompted Assembly Bill 109, the law that authorized the release of prisoners that began Oct. 1.
City Prosecutor Doug Haubert weighed in on the issue on Oct. 20 during an interview on Greater Long Beach Radio, essentially describing it as a budget problem and decrying the strain being placed on local governments by the solution chosen by state elected official. Dr. LaTanya Skiffer, a professor of sociology and criminology at Cal State Dominguez Hills, found much to agree upon with Haubert, although she suggested that this crisis may provide opportunity and incentive to take fresh looks at our society’s use of incarceration as deterrent and punishment.
The Peace & Justice Summitt may be one of the opportunities Skiffer was talking about. It is presented by 6th district Councilman Dee Andrews, in conjuction with two organizations focused upon the well being of former prisoners—A New Way of Life Reentry Project and All of Us or None.
Susan Burton, whose activism since her own incarceration has been highlighted by CNN, will moderate the event, which will feature three phases:
• Presentations by local organizations and government agencies;
• Personal testimony by people who have been released from prison to an action panel of state and local elected officials, as well as other key community leaders. Barriers to rejoining society will be highlighted by speakers drawing from their personal experiences in relation to such issues as employment, housing and education. They will also suggest action steps that can be taken toward solutions;
• A facilitated discussion by members of the action panel, in which they use the information and perspectives just offered by the former inmates to identify immediate steps that can be taken to implement solutions.