(The Center Square) – Ensuring that young people who have been arrested have accommodation is the first step in preventing them from going to prison. So claims a coalition of partners in Chicago who want to change the trajectory of young people aged 18 to 24, mostly young men, who end up in prison.
“Stabilizing their lives is the answer to public safety. It’s violence prevention,” said Amy Campanelli, vice president of restorative justice at Lawndale Christian Legal Center at The Center Square.
Campanelli, a former Chicago public defender, said giving those arrested a stable place to live and a job are essential first steps.
“We can’t expect them to champion their cause and get on a good trajectory when they’re living on the streets or couch surfing and have no idea where they’re going to sleep tonight. It won’t work,” she said.
A new program that began in June provides apartments for young arrestees who are waiting for their case to be processed by the courts. The objective is to prevent them from going to prison by giving them a job and housing.
The new housing program was implemented by the Chicago Low-income Housing Trust Fund, the Bell Foundation and the LCLC.
LCLC case managers interview young offenders who are about to be released on bail to identify those who have no place to live.
“The number one support that most of the people we interview in prison need on a daily basis is housing,” Campanelli said. “The need for employment is also critical.”
The young offender who needs housing goes through a qualification process. Their income cannot exceed $22,000 per year. Safe, code-compliant housing is provided with subsidies of 70% of the cost of rent paid directly to landlords by the Chicago Low-income Housing Trust Fund.
“We are actively looking for owners,” Campanelli said. “Our case managers are directly involved and this is important for the owners. The owners know they can call us if there is a problem.
The 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 young people. If they need mental health education or counseling or addiction services – whatever they need, LCLC works within the community to find help.
The idea is to address the issues that got the person in trouble in the first place so they can stay out of jail.
“We want them to succeed while their cases are pending. We don’t want them to do it again. We don’t want them to miss court. We want them to have a better trajectory in their lives,” 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 have to move away from the fact that judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, sheriffs and probation officers have the answers. They don’t have the answers,” Campanelli said. “They are not the community.”
The majority of people don’t need to be incarcerated, Campanelli said.
“But there must be money for support.”