Community-based organizations include reentry and rehabilitation programs, victim services organizations, community-led violence prevention efforts, and other groups engaged with justice-involved populations. Formerly incarcerated people face significant barriers as they seek to resume life outside prison or jail. These include finding employment, securing housing, receiving substance use disorder (SUD) and behavioral health treatment, resuming education, and obtaining health care. These barriers have become even more formidable during the pandemic, given rising unemployment and support services strained by growing need. Typically, reentering citizens rely on community-based organizations to help them transition from prison.
Community-based organizations also supply vital assistance to victims and survivors of crime and abuse, including protecting their safety and security, facilitating their understanding of and participation in criminal or other legal processes, helping them recover from victimization and trauma, helping them collect restitution, and responding to other needs. While some victim service providers are embedded with criminal justice agencies, such as prosecutors’ offices and probation and parole agencies, many are nongovernmental and based in the community.
Nongovernmental organizations in the community also play an important role in preventing and reducing crime, violence, and justice system involvement. At-risk youth and adults often need help with avoiding poor choices that lead to delinquent or criminal behavior and involvement in the criminal justice system. This assistance can come in the form of mentoring, tutoring, training, education, SUD treatment, counseling, and other forms of support. For example, street outreach organizations engage those at the highest risk for gun violence, offering to mediate disputes and provide other services in order to prevent violent crime. Many of these organizations are now performing a dual function, preventing violence and promoting public health in disadvantaged neighborhoods where both crime and COVID-19 are concentrated.
While little data is available, community-based organizations have been under significant pressure due to COVID-19, the economic downturn, and increased demand for services, among other factors. Unlike law enforcement, courts, and corrections, community-based organizations are rarely permanent and must be periodically reauthorized. Discretionary community-based programming is frequently the first to be cut, but evidence-based community programming often has a large return on investment and is inexpensive in comparison to traditional crime responses. In addition, community-based approaches promote holistic, comprehensive approaches to public safety and may improve the perceived legitimacy of anti-crime efforts.
Communicate credible information.
Communicate updated CDC guidelines around personal protective equipment, physical distancing, and remote work measures, and, when/if they become available, COVID vaccines, with an approach based on education and awareness, as opposed to enforcement.
Adopt evidence-based, data-driven practices.
Use evidence-based practices to ensure effectiveness. For instance, with regard to SUD treatment, consider the American Medical Association’s guidelines for addressing opioid use disorder during a pandemic and other evidence-based policies.
Collect and release data.
Collect community data on COVID-19 infection, morbidity, and mortality, along with information concerning race, ethnicity, and gender. Engage in real-time evaluation of community-based programming, piloting such evaluations in the communities most impacted by the pandemic.
Support individuals returning home after incarceration through investments in reentry employment and training; transportation and housing; programs that help individuals maintain access to benefits such as SNAP and Medicaid during transitional employment and economic recovery; and by enabling incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to qualify for stimulus checks.
Develop new partnerships.
Develop partnerships with state and local public health authorities, medical experts, universities, and other trusted health sources.
Leverage trusted voices.
Explicitly and intentionally leverage trusted voices in impacted communities (such as historically Black colleges and universities and nongovernmental organizations led by people of color) to maximize impact, engage in data collection and program evaluation, and communicate effectively.