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Advocates, policymakers, and community members across the country are racing to secure the release of as many people as possible from prisons and jails to combat the fatal spread of COVID-19 inside facilities. Upon release, people are reentering their communities in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. Securing housing and employment — a challenge under any circumstances — is now next to impossible.

As we work to respond to these critical needs, we need to ask: What are the pathways to release and reentry? How are existing barriers being impacted by the pandemic? And what are some scalable solutions that can be quickly implemented to meet the needs of those released?

Impact Justice hosted our first virtual conversation examining criminal justice issues that are in the spotlight and exacerbated by COVID-19: From Prison to Quarantine, with Terah Lawyer, who leads the Homecoming Project at Impact Justice, and Keith Wattley, Executive Director of UnCommon Law, to address these questions and more. Watch their conversation below.

From Prison to Quarantine is part of our Impact Ideas series of book discussions, presentations, and panels designed to provoke fresh ideas about the future of our criminal justice system. Our work at Impact Justice is rooted in innovation and research. In times of crisis, it’s more important than ever to connect with each other in pursuit of a justice system that is fair to all of us.

About the speakers:

Keith Wattley

Keith Wattley is the founder and Executive Director of UnCommon Law, a legal nonprofit providing trauma-informed, healing-centered parole advocacy and counseling to people serving life sentences in California state prisons. Mr. Wattley has been advocating for the rights of people in prison and parolees for nearly 20 years; he is an expert in discretionary parole who has represented thousands of clients seeking release from their life sentences, as well as in impact litigation and individual matters involving mental health care, excessive force and visitation rights, and he has trained hundreds of lawyers, law students and others in advocating for the rights of incarcerated people. In 2018, Mr. Wattley was selected as one of the Obama Foundation’s inaugural Fellows, recognizing his unique legal model and vision for representing people convicted of violent crimes in their parole hearings, and in 2020, he was awarded the James Irvine Foundation’s annual Leadership Award. Mr. Wattley is co-chair of the Institutional Review Board (human subjects committee) for the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, a member of the Founding Board of Directors for the Prison University Project, a member of the Board of Directors for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and a current Lecturer in Law at UCLA School of Law and UC Berkeley School of Law.

Terah Lawyer

Terah Lawyer finds purpose in working to improve the justice system. She is the program manager for the Homecoming Project at Impact Justice, an innovative re-entry housing program at Impact Justice. Her role includes matching eligible participants to compatible hosts while securing a support network for each arrangement.

Being formerly incarcerated, Terah has been an advocate for incarcerated people for more than a decade as a peer health educator, a certified drug and alcohol counselor, and a youth diversion specialist. She is a past chair of the Beyond Incarceration Panel with the Central California Women’s Facility. She also developed numerous curricula for therapeutic workshops and groups that empower and change the lives of people in California’s state prisons.

Photographer: Bob Chamberlain
Source: Getty Images

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