Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

La Bodega De la Familia: Supporting Parolees' Reintegration within a Family Context

Academic journal article Fordham Urban Law Journal

La Bodega De la Familia: Supporting Parolees' Reintegration within a Family Context

Article excerpt

I. THE CHALLENGE OF PAROLE AND REINTEGRATION

Parole was developed with the goal of ensuring individuals a successful return to society after a period of incarceration. (1) Recidivism statistics suggest, however, that parole is not successful in meeting these goals, particularly for persons convicted of drug offenses. (2) Two-thirds of all released drug offenders are rearrested within three years, and more than one-third of all new prison admissions are parole failures. (3) In New York State, over one-third of the adjudicated drug defendants had at least one prior drug conviction, and approximately one-third of the paroled drug offenders had their parole revoked within three years for committing new felonies (typically new drug crimes). (4) In 1993, the New York City Criminal Justice Agency found that roughly hall of all those convicted of drug felonies in New York City were rearrested within two years. (5)

Each week, about 300 people are released from New York state prisons and return to New York City. (6) In New York City, as in other major cities, persons released from prison are expected not only to avoid rearrest, abide by the law, and fulfill the conditions of parole, but also to secure stable housing, employment, and healthy ties to others. Family Justice, through its storefront service, La Bodega de la Familia, is a non-profit organization that helps Lower East Side parolees through the reintegration process by using a unique family case management approach that calls upon the resources of families and community partners. (7)

The parolees who come to La Bodega illustrate the often-desperate need for services so many face following a release from prison. "I haven't seen most of my family for six years and I've never seen my daughter. What kind of relationship are we going to have?" "I'm worried about how my kids will respond to me coming home." "How will my brother feel when a parole officer searches his room?" "I need a job, but will anyone hire me?" "How long am I going to be able to live with my mother? What if I let her down?" "I'm afraid I'm going to relapse and wind up in prison. How can I prevent that?"

This Essay describes not only how La Bodega de la Familia responds to the diverse challenges posed by reintegration, but also the benefits of a model of justice supervision that recognizes individuals' social locations within their families and communities. Following a brief summary of the characteristics of Lower East Side parolees and La Bodega participants, Part II presents the social context into which parolees from the Lower East Side return. Part III outlines how La Bodega de la Familia has successfully responded to the challenge by emphasizing the importance of identifying and recognizing family strengths and community partners. Finally, Part IV discusses how current parole and criminal justice practice might benefit by shifting from an orientation focused on individuals and their shortcomings to one which focuses on families and their strengths.

II. LA VIDA LOISAIDA--LIFE ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE

Since 1996, La Bodega has served hundreds of parolees and their families on New York City's Lower East Side, a neighborhood colloquially known as "Loisaida." (8) La Bodega clients are predominantly unemployed Hispanic males with a history of convictions for drug use. (9) Socio-demographically, they are representative of the larger Loisaida community which is both racially and ethnically diverse, and relatively poor. (10) Hispanics, non-Hispanic whites, and Asians each comprise about thirty percent of the roughly 100,000 people who live there and African-Americans comprise about nine percent. (11) The median household income is approximately $27,000, with one-quarter of households reporting annual incomes of $10,000 or less. (12) Similar to other urban neighborhoods across the nation, Loisaida features high levels of substance-abuse and drug-related crime, some availability of health and substance abuse treatment services, and evidence of community organization at a neighborhood level. …

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