It's no secret that individuals who have been involved in the justice system face numerous challenges once they are released from incarceration. One of the biggest hurdles they encounter is securing stable housing. Unfortunately, discrimination against these individuals still exists, even from within public housing authorities in Oklahoma. Most Oklahomans aren’t even aware that those returning from prison are not allowed to benefit from public housing.
In our State, over 4,000 individuals are either unhoused or at risk of being unhoused due to their involvement in the justice system. According to a report by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, around 20% of children experiencing home stability challenges have a parent or guardian with a history of incarceration. This staggering statistic clearly indicates the impact of discrimination against justice-involved individuals by public housing authorities. One of the long-term solutions to ensuring housing stability for previously justice-involved Oklahomans is to limit the lookback period for criminal history when approving housing. A lookback period is the duration a landlord or property manager considers when reviewing an applicant's eligibility for housing. The Vera Institute estimates that 233,000 Oklahomans are ineligible for housing due to restrictive lookback periods. Reducing this to two years opens the eligibility to 125,000 more Oklahomans; 160,000 if it’s reduced to six months.
The Importance of Housing for Successful Reintegration
Securing stable housing within six months of release has decreased the likelihood of returning to prison within three years by 60%. It's clear that housing plays a critical role in the successful reintegration of justice-involved individuals into society. However, discrimination against these individuals by public housing authorities only serves to hinder their progress.
By denying these individuals access to public housing, we are effectively limiting their options for housing and hindering their ability to reintegrate into society. This discrimination also perpetuates the cycle of poverty and incarceration that is all too common in our society.
One viable solution to provide safe and affordable housing for returning citizens after their incarceration is for the state to offer housing solely for reentry purposes. This would include solid housing options that promote family reunification, easy access to services, and successful reentry into society, which is a crucial step toward gaining meaningful employment.
The Economic and Crime-Reducing Benefits of Providing Supportive Housing
Public housing authorities in Oklahoma are not just providing housing to justice-involved individuals out of the goodness of their hearts. They are doing so because it makes financial sense. Incarcerating an individual far outweighs the cost of providing them with housing and support services. In fact, the annual cost of incarcerating an individual in Oklahoma is over $19,000, while the cost of providing them with supportive housing is just over $5,000.
The Arnall Family Foundation has teamed up with Oklahoma County to tackle this crucial issue. They are launching two new pilot initiatives to address the problem.
The first program aims to provide studio homes to individuals who are either justice-involved or chronically homeless. The program has a lookback period of only two years and offers a range of services to its residents.
The second initiative focuses on reuniting families, provided that the family already resides in public housing. The program has a shorter duration of two years, and the lookback period is limited to three years. If the participant successfully engages in the program, they can be listed on the public housing lease after two years. The ultimate goal of the program is to help participants gain housing through their own efforts.
The Need for Change
The inequity against justice-involved individuals by public housing authorities needs to stop. These individuals deserve the opportunity to rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society. Furthermore, providing them with supportive housing not only benefits them but also saves taxpayers money in the long run.
Discrimination against justice-involved individuals by public housing authorities in Oklahoma is a pressing issue that needs to be addressed. By denying these individuals access to stable housing, we are only hindering their progress and making it more difficult for them to reintegrate into society. It's time for change to happen, and it's up to us to make it a reality. We must work towards eliminating prejudice against justice-involved individuals by public housing authorities and other areas of society to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity for success.