Getting a Finger on the Pulse with Rev. Troy Vaughn: Facing the Reentry Challenge with Clarity

Troy VaughnThe U.S. Dept of Justice has declared this week to be National Reentry Week. Justice Not Jails is marking the occasion with an interview with Rev. Troy Vaughn, interim executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership (LARRP), who also serves as Senior Pastor of Inglewood Community Church. With over 375 reentry support service providers involved in the network’s work, LARRP has a unique perspective on the struggle to bring Los Angeles County up to speed in delivering services in an integrated and efficient way.

Can you give us a brief “state of play” assessment of the progress that LA County is making toward improving its reentry support services, especially now that we have a high-powered new Office of Diversion and Reentry in place? And what would you say are the biggest remaining challenges in creating a fully integrated and effective system?

We are at a critical time in our County’s history. Never before have there been so many resources dedicated to improving reentry supportive services in Los Angeles County. And never before have so many minds and eyes been focused on this policy area.

In May of 2014 the Board of Supervisors directed several county departments to move expeditiously toward establishing a comprehensive diversion program for Los Angeles County. That motion established the foundation for what we are now doing. We have established a Permanent Steering Committee for the new Office of Diversion and Reentry, and we have begun to look at systems and develop programs that will facilitate better transition from jail for men and women suffering from mental illness and substance abuse disorder.

It should be obvious that a diversion and reentry plan that does not truly include community input will fail.

While the strategies and concepts being explored are welcome and rational, they are not new. They have been proposed before in some form. The urgent question before us is how to operationalize the strategies and how to implement the concepts. The big barrier we face is the barrier we have always faced in LA County: bureaucratic inertia and the impulse to keep doing “business as usual.”

It should be obvious that a diversion and reentry plan that does not truly include community input will fail. We cannot afford to project the appearance of involving the community while the real work is being done in secret rooms. The key is forging real partnership that allows community-based organizations to help realize the ambitious vision embraced by the Supervisors. The relevant public agencies need to drop their traditional defensiveness and welcome the insights and expertise of the community-based organizations that are best positioned to receive and assist individuals after release.

Success in this complex environment will hinge on building relationships: new and solid relationships among county personnel, community-based service providers, and the individuals involved in the multiple systems we are attempting to fix. Multi-tiered systems and different levels of planning will support effective diversion and reentry strategies over time, but only if we can achieve transparency and trust among all the stakeholders.

In California a big part of getting people out prisons and jails (and keeping them out) is the ongoing work of implementing the promise of Prop 47. Tell us something about LARRP’s special role in meeting this special challenge?

LARRP’s work around the Prop 47 initiative seeks to close the gap in economic, health, and justice equity for formerly incarcerated women and men returning home to their communities. We aim to intensify and expand reclassification activities in communities throughout LA County by leveraging the contact that our community-based service providers already have with formerly and currently incarcerated people. And in the course of this we will raise basic awareness around what Prop 47 is and what it does.

LARRP’s approach incorporates three specific objectives:

  • increase the capacity of budding regional reentry support coalitions by supplying them with small grants and technical assistance;
  • develop and deploy a new training platform aimed at closing the health equity gap affecting the target population; and
  • produce and convene implementation forums that will address the questions and needs of the formerly incarcerated, service providers, and public agency communities.

Why is the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership uniquely positioned to help expedite the transition to a new public health-based model for public safety in this region?

The dramatic policy change embodied in Prop 47 offers an unprecedented opportunity for demonstrating how doing reentry support the right way can reduce recidivism and build a health-based model for public safety in this region. We should remember that Prop 47 has two complementary dimensions: not just reclassifying offenses so as to get people out of prison and jail but also capturing and redirecting the savings from reduced incarceration levels. We should be using these savings, amounting to tens of millions of dollars, to develop more cost-effective approaches in assisting non-violent offenders and attacking the roots of violence and social dysfunction in communities that have suffered the most.

peter-laarman-15LARRP exists to provide guidance on how to reduce barriers facing the formerly incarcerated. That’s our core mission. But we also understand that the urgency of healing the families and communities that have been deeply wounded by mass incarceration and mass criminalization. We can’t rest until we have addressed the system’s full impact on families and children, which includes loss of income, emotional pain, disruption in family life, and social stigma.

Peter Laarman

About Peter Laarman

Rev. Peter Laarman serves on the Justice Not Jails steering committee. He formerly directed Progressive Christians Uniting, the LA-based network of activist individuals and congregations that first launched Justice Not Jails in 2012 as a multifaith initiative. He served as the senior minister of New York’s Judson Memorial Church from 1994 to 2004. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Peter spent 15 years as a labor movement strategist and communications specialist prior to training for ministry.