Root & Rebound
Interview with Root & Rebound‘s Founder & Executive Director, Katherine Katcher.
Organization Vision: Root & Rebound envisions a world where a criminal record is not a life sentence and where people with past involvement in the justice system (anyone with a prior arrest or conviction, whether as juvenile or an adult) have access to opportunities in education, employment, family reunification, and all areas of community life.
Organization Mission: Root & Rebound’s mission is to increase access to justice and opportunity for people in reentry from prison and jail, and to educate and empower those who support them, fundamentally advancing and strengthening the reentry infrastructure across the state of California and nationally.
Population Served: The one in three Americans with a criminal record — from juveniles who are in the midst of justice-involvement to adults who have served decades behind bars.
Founding Year: 2013
Location: Oakland, CA
Organization Website: http://www.rootandrebound.org/
Please provide a brief overview of the organization’s work.
Root & Rebound utilizes a three-pronged model that combines legal education and dissemination of information (Our Roadmap to Reentry legal guide, supplemental toolkits, and accompanying training curriculums) with direct services (Our Legal Reentry Hotline and prison letter-writing program), both of which, in combination, facilitate and inform the third prong, systems reform (partnerships and information-sharing with stakeholders, policymakers and reformers/activists).
In a few sentences, please describe the problem you are working to solve and your approach to solving this problem.
Right now, one in three Americans has a criminal record and they face over 48,000 legal barriers to everyday life. On top of that, there is only one lawyer for every 10,000 Americans who can’t afford representation. Yet every year, 750,000 individuals are released from prison and millions of people cycle in and out of county jails. With vast numbers of people living with a criminal record and impacted by the criminal justice system, the traditional legal aid model of one lawyer to one client means too many people in need go unserved.
Root & Rebound’s model brings legal advocacy to scale for people who face the greatest civil legal barriers and stigma. We do this through a three-part model of education, advocacy, and reform.
How and why did you end up working for this organization?
My passion and work to create opportunity for all people is deeply rooted in my family’s history; people who came to this country seeking a better life and, through opportunity and hard work, were able to improve their circumstances over generations—fulfilling the true “American Dream.” Our story has shaped my strong belief that all people should have equal access to opportunity, social mobility, and the chance to achieve a better life for themselves and their families. From a young age in my hometown of Miami, Florida, I witnessed firsthand the way in which racism, discrimination, and bias have harmed so many. This upbringing shaped my calling to create solutions that could break systemic barriers that prevent access to equal justice and opportunity for countless Americans. I chose to work in the post-justice system and reentry space because I believe these are the most marginalized men and women in our society; they, their families, and their communities have been devastated by mass incarceration.
What kind of trends do you see in your area of work?
On a policy level, we see a general move towards criminal justice reform, but we still don’t see funding available to support people with records. We have high numbers of people being released, but when people are arrested, convicted, or serve time in prison and jail, they need support and resources. We can’t just only focus on policy reform — a comprehensive solution requires both policy reform and direct services and there shouldn’t be a choice between the two. I have seen that legal advocates on the ground are often times the only reason that any policy changes actually have teeth–we need implementation and enforcement to make sure real change happens. Specifically, in California, legislative changes such as Prop 47, Prop 57, Prop 64, AB 109 and others have the potential to transform the criminal justice landscape across the state, and, if implemented with care, will contribute to a historic reduction in statewide incarceration rates. The problem, and the gap Root & Rebound seeks to fill across all program areas, is that very few groups are taking on the implementation of these policies once they are passed by the legislature.
In urban communities, we are expanding work to strengthen the capacity of parents and caregivers to navigate family court systems (probate court, dependency court, family court, foster/adoption processes, CPS, ICE detention) by hosting quarterly Family Law Clinics and providing family law services for parents with records where previously none existed. We are also expanding trainings for a wide range of stakeholders including employers, landlords, nonprofits, and government agencies to promote knowledge of reentry legal barriers and how to overcome them.
We see a large need in rural communities, where there is often the greatest need, where there is a dearth of social services or access to attorneys and this is where Root & Rebound is pushing the envelope in providing reentry legal support for these communities. Within these communities, we see an increasing number of vulnerable people and their children caught in the tangling web of the immigration and criminal justice systems, terrified by ICE raids and the aggressively xenophobic rhetoric of this administration, with no one to turn to for legal advice and support. To counter this alarming trend, Root & Rebound is increasing its work for those at the nexus of immigration and criminal justice reform.
What do you think will change most about your work over the next 5 years?
As we expand within the state of California, growing 2 offices this year, and also nationally, we will start navigating larger regulatory frameworks and the broader structural problems affecting the populations we serve. With increased funding in California, we will be able to have more targeted efforts, growing our programs in tribal communities in Northern California and with women of color impacted by incarceration in the Central Valley. Nationally, we hope to engage in partnerships with high-impact social service organizations and law schools and to place a high-impact attorneys to serve the organization, its members, and the wider community. Lastly, we hope that as more state institutions begin to see the light about the ineffectiveness of mass incarceration and the need for more infrastructure on the reentry side, we hope to bring more unlikely partners to the table to expand access to employment, education, and housing for formerly incarcerated people across the country, through Fair Chance Housing, Fair Chance Hiring, and Higher Education and Reentry Initiatives with employers, landlords, and higher education institutions as well as corrections staff, social service providers, and community advocates.
What are the three most important skills you focus on developing in the population you serve? Why?
I would say that the three most important skills we hope to inspire in those that seek our support are self-advocacy, self-confidence, and hope. As a small group of lawyers serving anyone reentering or with a criminal record who seeks our support, we have the potential to have the greatest impact if we can transfer legal knowledge to our clients in a way that makes them feel empowered to advocate for themselves. We want to support self-confidence in our clients by laying out the next steps they should take and providing them with the full range of tools at our disposal to ensure their success. Lastly, communities of color and low-income communities have faced generations of discrimination, over-policing, and disenfranchisement and so we hope that access to attorneys to speak to about their challenges will allow them to feel seen and heard and valued, and most importantly will help grow a sense of optimism about the opportunities that could open to them and their families with legal support.
What are the three most important skills you focus on developing in your staff? Why?
Building an organization has allowed me to create a dynamic work culture in which we all bring our passion and energy to dismantling systems of incarceration and inequity and I’m honored to be on that journey with our diverse and creative team. At Root & Rebound, each member of staff is considered and treated as a key builder of the organization. My focus has been on building conscious leadership approaches to strengthen team dynamics, increasing resilience in challenging times, and fostering creativity and tenacity in getting the work done and creating wide-scale impact.
How has technology influenced the way your organization works?
As an organization, we leverage technology wherever possible to push out our resources to as many people as possible across the state and country. We create reentry resources that fill information-gaps, educate individuals on their rights, and provide navigation techniques for the legal and practical barriers. We bring this critical information to life via our website, interactive online training platform with digestible videos and factsheets on reentry legal barriers, and recently-launched HTML wiki-style searchable legal reentry guide. The Roadmap Wiki-site is a major step for us to expand digital access to legal education on barriers in reentry and reach an even larger audience and is paving the way for our movement towards online access.
Do you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are or what you do? Tell me about them.
All of the working mothers on my team! Working with a team of women professionals with young children, like me, helps me on days where I feel that the whole “balance” thing is out of whack. These are women I can laugh and cry with about trying to do it all! My parents, my grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and my great grandparents—some of whom I never met but whose commitment I carry on: a commitment to working hard but ALWAYS being grateful for what we have and looking out for others—that has been the single thread that runs through a hundred years of my family’s life. These values were passed down through family stories and by my parents’ examples, and allowed me at a young age to turn my attention and focus to why people have less than me—why well-being on this planet is determined in large part by where and to whom you are born. That should not be. From a young age, I knew that was wrong and wanted to use my life to undo as much of that as possible.
If we talk one year from now, reflecting on what a great year it’s been, what did you/the organization achieve?
We will be reflecting on possibly our organization’s biggest year, in which we expanded our reach and impact to two new cities in California and hopefully built strong national partnerships that are laying the groundwork for scaling across the country. This is the year that Root & Rebound really came into its own as a national organization—out of “childhood” and into “young adulthood,” with all the growing pains, challenges, and enormous opportunities that come with that.
What’s next for you in your work? What are you looking forward to?
Here in California, we are growing our presence and deepening the direct services we deliver to communities that lack access to justice. We are building out offices in the Central Valley and LA area, growing our work with tribal communities, and increasing our reach inside prisons and jails.
We are also expanding our model out to states with less of a reentry infrastructure and high need. Along those lines, I’m looking forward to the kind of partnerships that Remy De La Peza, our new Director of National Initiatives, can help us to create with organizations and advocates already on the ground in communities across the country where Root & Rebound could have significant impact.
What do you wish others knew about the organization?
Our organization goes far beyond legal or reentry services—we work to address mass incarceration on a broad scale and dismantle intergenerational cycles of poverty and criminalization. We are working on the greatest human rights issues of our time. If you care about violence prevention, employment access, reducing poverty, women’s rights—then the intersection here is crucial. I promise you, this is your issue.
- USA Today: “Prisoners who risk their lives during Calif. wildfireis shouldn’t be shut our of profession” (Nov. 2017)
- Axios: “How inmates who fight wildfires are later denied firefighting jobs” (Nov. 2017)
- ABC Broadcast: “Non-profit travels the state, offering legal advice to help parolees get jobs and rejoin society” (Aug. 2017)
- Axios: “The puzzle of getting convicts into jobs” (Jan. 2017)
- Clio: “Root and Rebound’s InnovativeModel for Reentry” (Jan 2017)