After three years of law school, Amy Meek LAW ’09 decided she needed to spend more time in New Haven.
The city hired Meek two weeks ago as the coordinator of its Prisoner Reentry Initiative, a program established in 2008 to help prevent formerly incarcerated persons from committing additional crimes and to ease their transition back into community life. Meek, 28, has set up in a small, sparse office in the back corner of the annex at City Hall, half a mile from where she was a student this past May. And though it is just a few months after her graduation, Meek said she is poised to seek much-needed results.
Originally from Palatine, Ill., Meek graduated from Swarthmore College with a degree in philosophy and then worked for three years with the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. before attending law school.
Meek said she believes providing support for ex-offenders is important not because they necessarily deserve a second chance, but because it’s practical from a societal standpoint.
“Without some kind of support structure in place, a really high percentage of ex-offenders will re-offend,” Meek said. “But, given the option of housing and employment, they’ll take it.”
Her main duty, she said, will be providing support to the 25 or so ex-offenders who return to the city each week. Meek will work to organize state and community agencies to provide necessities like housing and employment, listening to the public’s opinion toward former prisoners and handling a calls each week from ex-offenders asking for help.
Meek, still settling into her new post, said she will continue programs started by her predecessor, Deborah Marcuse ’97 LAW ’08. At the forefront of those initiatives is the New Haven Reentry Roundtable, a monthly discussion that draws community leaders, social workers, and officials from criminal and juvenile justice systems. Meek said she will also be working with the New Haven Housing Authority, which is launching a pilot program to provide transitional housing to 12 area ex-offenders.
Prisoner reentry support used to be under the auspices of the Connecticut Commission on Community Service; it was moved last year to the mayor’s office with the creation of the Prisoner Reentry Initiative. The move marked the city’s increased focus on those issues — including the “Ban the Box” efforts to remove question 5a, which asks for felony and misdemeanor status, from city employment applications. Marcuse was the first city employee whose job was devoted solely to the ex-offender support.
In an e-mail, Marcuse said prisoners need help not only in finding jobs, social and soft-work skills such as leadership and teamwork, but in dealing with the stigmatization from society.
“Anyone working on reentry faces a sea of individuals with profound need of assistance in almost every area of their lives,” she said.
While at the Law School, Meek was active in clinical programs such as the Jerome Frank Legal Services Organization and the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, working in areas like domestic violence and immigration, and with previously incarcerated youth who were facing expulsion from public school because of their criminal records. It was during her work at the latter organization, Meek said, that she realized incarceration’s long-lasting consequences.
“Coming to law school I had this real vision of how if you’re a committed lawyer you can make a difference, both with litigation and with policy,” Meek said.
City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said past experience in New Haven makes Meek a good fit for the job. But, beyond that, Meek is currently testing the waters; she said she is focused on determining what ex-offenders need most, including education, training programs and help with their resumes.
“I’m still new to the job,” she said. “I’m excited to be here and start meeting people.”
Her position is being funded for two years through a $350,000 grant from the Department of Justice.