• News
  • 106 – Stigma, Discrimination, and Homelessness: How One CEO Is Modernizing the Parole Reentry Process

106 – Stigma, Discrimination, and Homelessness: How One CEO Is Modernizing the Parole Reentry Process

106 – Stigma, Discrimination, and Homelessness: How One CEO Is Modernizing the Parole Reentry Process

While release from prison can be a joyful occasion, people who have been incarcerated face an entirely new series of challenges upon reclaiming their civilian status. Housing, a fundamental human right, is perhaps the most daunting of these challenges which can be observed in the disproportionately high number of homeless people with criminal histories. Pioneer Human Services is a Seattle-based social enterprise that partners with communities to transform society by honoring the humanity of people, reducing the impact of mass incarceration, and empowering people to lead safe, healthy, productive lives by overturning barriers, such as housing discrimination. In this inspiring latest installment, Mike sits down with CEO Karen Lee to discuss ways we can lessen the stigma against people who were formerly incarcerated and normalize affirming reentry programs for the betterment of everyone in our society.

Show Notes

[00:02] Welcome to Open Mike!

[00:46] Karen Lee’s bio and background as CEO of Pioneer Human Services.

[01:44] Welcome to the show, Karen!

[02:21] A lot of the people we’ve interviewed, especially in wrongful convictions, have talked about how they don’t have many housing options or familial help when they’re released from prison. Tell us about what you’re doing to help them!

[02:42] Housing is probably the biggest challenge that people experience after prison. Not many studies are conducted in this sector, but all of them identify that a disproportionate amount of homeless people have criminal history.

[04:57] Editor’s note: for the purpose of the show, nonincarcerated people will be referred to as “civilians.”

[08:17] I’m impressed — 500 units seems like a lot of units to be able to offer people! Is the government, local, state, or federal, subsidizing these at all?

[08:51] HUD sends vouchers, but when Pioneer accepts those vouchers, they lose authority over who gets placement in those units.

[11:27] Pioneer Human Services believes universal housing is a fundamental, human right. Everyone deserves it, regardless of what has happened to them in their past.

[12:48] Part of incarceration, we would hope, is called reentry planning, where people are offered education, degree opportunities, trade skills, so they can support themselves upon release. When people who are wrongfully convicted are released, the prison oftentimes receives less than 24 hours’ notice. Depending on the nature of the crime, some people aren’t even offered these educational or training opportunities, because reentry isn’t deemed a legitimate possibility.  

[14:11] With the thousands of people you’ve helped, I’m curious — what are some of the common stereotypes and misconceptions about people who have been incarcerated?

[17:43] These are all really great points. How do we educate people and change the beliefs and stigmas surrounding people who have been imprisoned?

[20:40] One of the ways is to change the language with which we identify people. For example, instead of saying “inmate” say “someone who has been an inmate.” By identifying their humanity first, you refrain from labeling them.

[21:51] Do people who were formerly incarcerated experience the same discrimination finding a job as they do housing?

[24:34] Do you understand where the employers are coming from in their concerns and fears of hiring people who were convicted of felonies? More specifically, do you think those fears are misplaced?

[25:22] Our country tends to take this blanket approach regardless the nature of one’s crime, they’re automatically not “worthy” to be hired.

[26:06] We see so many racial inequities about people going into prison… are you seeing the same racial inequities once people are released?

[27:10] During our last economic expansion, when unemployment was at 5%, people who had a felony conviction were at 35% unemployment, Black men were at 37% unemployment, and Black women were around 42%.

[29:11] As a society, how do you think we level the playing field and eliminate social inequities?

[31:31] Is expungement one of the solutions to this issue? Is that something you’re pushing toward?

[33:30] Are you optimistic with a new President and new Congress that we’ll see some changes made to the criminal justice system?

[35:27] Make sure you check out the Pioneer Human Services website and take their mass incarceration quiz to see what you know and educate yourself on this important issue. Connect with Karen Lee on LinkedIn and follow Pioneer on Facebook and Twitter as well!

[36:25] It was such a pleasure to chat with and learn from you, Karen. Thanks for coming on the show!] [37:00] If you know somebody who needs to hear this episode, forward this to them. Listen, comment, like, and subscribe. We love you all for tuning in, and we do need to educate ourselves and each other on these issues. Thanks for watching and being a fan! Talk to you next time.

Watch This episode!

Where to listen to all episodes:

Spotify logo Stitcher Tune in mike morse on youtube iHeart Radio