Reprinted from New Haven Independent, Jan. 3, 2019, by Tom Breen

Ban the box, not just for job applications, but for housing applications, too.

A criminal justice reform group plans to pitch that idea to the state legislature this coming session as part of recommendations on how to create housing opportunities for Connecticut’s recently incarcerated.

Fernando Muñiz and Rosa Correa came on WNHH Radio’s “Criminal Justice Insider with Babz Rawls-Ivy and Jeff Grant” to talk about that initiative, and about housing policy and criminal justice reform in Connecticut more broadly.

Muñiz and Correa are two of the three co-chairs of the Legislative Housing Re-Entry Working Group, which the General Assembly created in June to study housing options for the recently incarcerated and to recommend an evidence-based housing policy to help people reentering society.

The group has spent the past six months holding meetings with stakeholders throughout the state, and plans to present recommendations to the legislature in Feb. 2019.

“We’re looking at housing options and opportunities for people coming out of incarceration,” Correa said. “We’re looking at housing options not only in apartments, but also in public housing. … We did this work. When the work comes before the legislature, we might need some people to come out and support any bills that comes out of that.”

Correa is a lifelong Bridgeport resident and community activist who recently retired from Career Resources, Inc., where she focused on workforce development initiatives.

Muñiz is a former deputy commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families (DCF). He’s currently the CEO of the Connecticut-based nonprofit Community Solutions, Inc., which runs eight halfway houses in Connecticut and dozens of other reentry programs in eight other states.

One such policy recommendation that the working group will likely deliver to the legislature come February, Correa said, is a “Ban the Box” proposal that relates to housing, and not just to employment.

As of last year, the state prohibits employers from asking applicants about criminal history at the onset of the job application process. That’s to ensure that employers don’t discriminate against applicants simply because they have spent time in prison.

Correa said the state legislature should pass similar laws that would prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to tenants simply because of their criminal background.

“Why should a person disclose [criminal background] if that person comes across as having the financial” means to rent an apartment? Correa asked. “If you get shut out in the beginning, where do you go?”

“I want to remind homeowners,” Correa continued, “that these individuals have families. They have children. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring them back together so that they can begin to relive their lives in a healthy, contributing way in the community, which most want to do anyway?”

Muñiz added that the state needs to take the money it’s saved through the closing of prisons and the reduction of the prison population, and reinvest those funds into residential housing and reentry services for the recently released. Don’t let these savings just roll back into the state’s general fund, he warned, or else the population coming home from prison will have nowhere to live, nowhere to work, and no way to fully reintegrate into a community.

“We’ve been closing prison beds,” he said, “and zero of those dollars have gone into the community-based kinds of supports and services that folks need.” That means more beds at halfway houses, he said, as well as policy changes and community partnerships that make housing available for recently incarcerated. He said he has been happy to see landlords showing up to some of the public meetings that the working group has held.

“We have to think about investments outside of government” too, he said. He said the time when nonprofits could sit back and wait for Requests for Proposal (RFP) for government-funded housing projects to show up at their doors is over.

Instead, nonprofits like Community Solutions, Inc. need to work with private foundations and other private companies to develop their own support programs for the recently incarcerated. He said his company currently works with a construction company in California to hire people living in their halfway houses.

“We’re preparing the road for a better life,” Correa said. “You want your business to thrive. You need to invest in these initiatives.”