Expanding Opportunities and Reducing Recidivism

At the outset, a criminal sentence may seem simple: a fine, jail time, and then it is over. The debt has been paid. Yet an encounter with the criminal justice system can have far reaching consequences for men and women who struggle to reenter society and make the most of their second chances.

With a criminal record, it can be difficult to build a life, find a home, pay off debts, and secure employment long after the sentence has been served. The Institutions Project at Columbia Legal Services works to improve conditions in prisons and other facilities, and also works on initiatives to support the successful reintegration of men and women into society after serving time.

A growing body of evidence links job access and financial self-sufficiency with reduced recidivism rates. A fair chance at employment could make the difference between success and desperation. The end result is stronger communities and fewer tax dollars spent.

The Institution Project’s reentry clinics provide opportunities for low-income men and women to meet with volunteer lawyers who offer advice regarding housing, employment, and Legal Financial Obligations (LFO’s)—the fines, fees, and restitution resulting from a criminal conviction. With the help of partners, including FareStart, the Institutions Project plans to expand these clinics and to reach as many formerly incarcerated people as possible with the goal of opening up opportunities and reducing recidivism.

The Institutions Project also advocates for smart regulatory reform that enables well-qualified men and women have a fair opportunity at employment—a second chance. One recent example is the Seattle Job Assistance Ordinance, which limits the ways in which arrest and conviction records can be used in employment decisions, providing more applicants an opportunity to showcase their qualifications.

Find out more about the work of the Institutions Project on our Advocacy pages.