Megan Welsh, who is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the John Jay/CUNY PhD Program in Criminal Justice, received a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Institute of Justice. The $30,000 fellowship will fund the writing of her dissertation and the dissemination of her findings.
Her dissertation is entitled "How women and front-line workers manage the bureaucratic process of prisoner reentry in post-Realignment California." For the last two years, Welsh conducted an ethnography of a tremendous change in California’s criminal justice system.
“In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that, due to rampant prison overcrowding, California's prison system is in violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. To deal with the Court’s ruling, California enacted the Public Safety Realignment Act,” said Welsh. Under the terms of Realignment, roughly 40,000 prisoners, termed “non-non-nons” (individuals convicted of non-serious, non-sexual, and non-violent crimes) would need to be shifted from state prison to county custody, where they serve out their time either in local jail or on community supervision.
“The realignment represents a huge shift in penal policy – and hopefully for the better. For those of us who have been concerned for decades about the long-term effects of mass incarceration, the realignment could signal a turning point in criminal justice policy away from prison and toward community-based treatment and supervision. But for people working on the ground, there are big concerns about how it is being implemented, whether it is sustainable, and what it means for public safety.” Welsh wanted to document how the realignment would affect women getting out of prison and jail, as well as the many institutional systems that people getting out of prison have to navigate during their reentry process. She conducted in-depth interviews and observations with formerly-incarcerated women, and extensive interviews with welfare eligibility workers, parole agents, and probation officers.
Funding from NIJ will help Welsh to publish her work in scholarly journals and to design a web-based toolkit based on her findings. According to Welsh, the toolkit’s goal will be to educate formerly-incarcerated people about their rights as they navigate multiple public service bureaucracies during the reentry process, provide them information about where to access needed services, and will serve as an interactive information exchange for toolkit users to post questions and solutions. For reentry practitioners and front-line workers, the toolkit will provide information about effective service delivery, a digest of information about available services, and an interactive section for practitioners to share best practices.
“When people get out of prison and jail, they often have to do an overwhelming number of things to get their lives back: find housing, apply for public assistance, comply with criminal justice supervision requirements, and for many people – especially women – reunite with their children,” Welsh said. “There are not a lot of resources out there to help people navigate these systems, and front-line workers are often not trained to deal with the special needs of formerly-incarcerated people. With NIJ’s support, I’m hoping this toolkit will empower people to get the help they need.”