SIDEBAR Summer 2019 - 12


By Carl N. Weiner, Esq., President, Montgomery Bar Foundation


he challenges facing reentry of incarcerated individuals
into everyday life was the focus of the Third Annual
Access to Justice Summit hosted by the Montgomery
Bar Foundation on May 3rd at the beautiful new facilities of
the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit in Norristown. The
program served to provide an eye-opening experience for all who
The mission of the Montgomery Bar Foundation, which is
the charitable arm of the Montgomery Bar Association, is to
provide assistance to those programs and agencies throughout
the Montgomery County community involved in promoting
access to the legal system for underserved populations.
The Access to Justice Summits are organized by the
Montgomery Bar Foundation annually to establish a forum
fostering dialogue and interaction among nonprofit and
government agencies in Montgomery County with the ultimate
goal of streamlining the sharing of information and services
among these organizations. This year's highly successful summit
was attended by representatives of 45 organizations that serve
Montgomery County.

The program opened with introductory remarks by Carl N.
Weiner, Esq., President of the Montgomery Bar Foundation,
Kenneth E. Lawrence, Jr., Vice Chair of the Montgomery
County Board of Commissioners, and Nancy Walsh, Director
of Engagement, Leadership and Community Outreach for the
Montgomery Bar Association. Participants were then given
identities and profiles of a typical representation of men and
women being released from incarceration. Everyone was given
a list of basic life functions which they needed to tend to each
week for a sequence of four weeks. Those functions included
paying rent for a place to live, buying food, getting appropriate
forms of identification such as birth certificates, checking in
with probation officers and, as often applicable, drug testing.
Participants were given a small amount of funds to start with,
"transportation" tickets which covered the initial cost of getting
around and bonus items such as jewelry to be pawned.
The daunting challenges of reentry became quickly evident
as everyone became immersed in the process. Illusions of a safety
net on which people can rely to get reintegrated in society were
quickly swept away. For many, the first step to getting anything
accomplished - renting a place, obtaining employment, receiving
any form of assistance - required waiting in a long line for
identification applications, and then waiting in another long
line for the identification form itself. Every step involved finding
a means of getting around and securing transportation which
proved so challenging that items such as paying rent or buying
food, let alone checking in with the probation officer or drug
testing, fell by the wayside. The pawn shop gave half the value
assigned to the jewelry item. An attempt to sell blood for a little
extra cash fell through due to an infection. At each turn, there
was some unanticipated setback.
As the weeks wore on through the program, frustration grew.
While a participant might get away with skipping one meeting
with a probation officer or a drug test or might get away with
failing to pay rent for a week or two, eventually everything came
home to roost. Names were called and those who failed to pay
rent ended up in the homeless area. They were the lucky ones.
Many others went back to jail where the prevailing sentiment
was an actual sense of relief from the pressures and frustrations


SIDEBAR Summer 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of SIDEBAR Summer 2019

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