How the Robin Hood Foundation Helps Prisoners Re-Enter Society

After years of record incarceration rates, the United States now has record numbers of former inmates struggling to make it in society after time behind bars. The odds tend to be stacked against them, and that's certainly true in New York’s poorest neighborhoods, where kids have a better chance of going to prison than to college and a great many do multiple stints in prison.

Like many funders these days, the Robin Hood Foundation wants to break the cycle of poverty and recidivism, and has even taken its donors to Rikers Island. It also provides support to organizations like the Long Island City-based Fortune Society. In 2011, it gave the group a $450,000 grant for its employment services work. And recently it awarded a $275,000 grant to the Fortune Society to renovate its dilapidated facility.

The Fortune Society has been helping former prisoners re-enter society and get on the right track for the past 45 years. The nonprofit agency offers education, housing, employment, substance abuse treatment, mental health, and HIV/AIDS programs to ex-convicts recently released from prison. "It looked very unwelcome, very unfriendly and very dark,” said JoAnne Page, the grou's president. “You make a very powerful statement to people by the quality of the space you offer them.”(Read Robin Hood Foundation: New York City Grants).

Within three months of receiving the grant from Robin Hood, the Fortune Society revamped its headquarters at 29-76 Northern Boulevard with a modern reception area, a common area for client programs, flooring, and much-needed furniture. Staff member Donald Gray, a former inmate in the state penitentiary system, said, “When I first got here, I thought I was back in a cell it was so drab. Now it’s brighter and more comfortable. You want to be here to do the work you need to change.” A vast majority of Fortune Society clients are former prisoners of Rikers Island, where the agency operates an outreach program.

There’s an obviously strong connection between poverty and crime in New York, and the Robin Hood Foundation’s most obvious goal is fighting poverty in the city. In fact, the foundation awarded over $126 million to fight poverty in 2013. The foundation doesn’t have a specific program area to fund prisoner transition groups like Fortune Society, so these types of grants get lumped into the general poverty grantmaking strategy. But given the strong connection between poverty and crime in New York City, this makes a lot of sense. The average Robin Hood grant is between $100,000 and $200,000. Grant applications are accepted throughout the year and general questions can be directed to grants@robinhood.org