Court fees are just part of the downstream penalties assessed on formerly incarcerated people. (Infographic by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights)

Court fees are just part of the downstream penalties assessed on formerly incarcerated people. (Infographic by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights)

“Families and communities are our nation’s unrecognized re-entry program.”

When it comes to our nation’s prison incarceration numbers, a truer and more startling statement may never have been uttered. And those words highlight one of the stark realities that confront communities who welcome home family and other loved ones who have ended their term of incarceration. For in a nation committed to a criminal justice strategy marked by long terms of imprisonment, “time inside” is only one part of the long-term penalty assessed on inmates and their families.

The quote above was spoken by Zachary Norris, an attorney and Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, based in Oakland, California. I spoke with him in early May, mainly in regard to a report whose creation was led by the Ella Baker Center titled “Who Pays: The True Cost of Incarceration on Families.”

Zachary Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Oakland, Calif.

Zachary Norris, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Oakland, Calif.

My interview with Zach Norris, and with many others, was spurred and supported by a fellowship I received from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. More detail about the Fellowship is here and here. And you should read more about the Quattrone Center here. Material from my research supported by those organizations will appear here and in an upcoming issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine.

A few years ago, I was able to cover a related topic thanks to a John Jay/Guggenheim Fellowship: the possibility for sentencing reform in Arizona and nationwide. A previous article that resulted from my coverage is here. This year, I’m following the story from the sentencing and prison setting—where such sentencing changes did not materialize in Arizona—out into the community, which must address the downstream consequences of prison sentences and multiple other penalties assessed on the formerly incarcerated person—and their families.

In the coming days, I’ll report more on what Zach Norris told me, and what some of those punishing realities facing communities and families are.

In the meantime, if you or someone you know has been affected by the returnee challenges, either personally, or in your expert experience as an attorney or otherwise, I’d like to hear from you. Write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Infographic by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Infographic by Ella Baker Center for Human Rights