Katherine Katcher and Laura Merchant, Root & Rebound Reentry Advocates
Root & Rebound was founded by Katherine Katcher to better prepare people for reentry after prison and jail. 50,000 people are released from prison in California every year, with thousands more cycling in and out of county jails. They face approximately 48,000 documented federal, state, and local barriers to successful reintegration, but Root & Rebound is helping them to face these so that everyone gets an equal opportunity for a fresh start.
Making a difference with limited resources
Imagine being released from prison after 15 years and having no identification, no place to sleep, and only about $200. And, you’ve never used a smartphone before.
That’s the case for many of the people that Root & Rebound helps on a daily basis. The organization was founded by Katherine Katcher in 2014 to better prepare people for successful reentry after prison, and helps people navigate the approximately 48,000 documented federal, state, and local barriers to successful reintegration, including barriers to employment, housing, financial stability, and family reunification.
At first, the organization worked with people one-on-one, but they soon realized that the need for help with reentry was greater than this traditional model could meet: According to Root & Rebound’s website, 50,000 people are released from prison in California every year, with thousands more cycling in and out of county jails.
So Root & Rebound took a different approach. With a guide to reentry and online training sessions that make key legal information accessible, and a reentry hotline that accepts collect calls from prisons, the organization is helping more people than it ever thought possible—and it’s keeping track of the 1,700 matters it has opened over the past year with Clio.
Tracking key details with notes and custom fields
Root & Rebound gets about 500 letters each week and over 100 calls each Friday. Keeping track of details for every one of those interactions is important—Root & Rebound relies on law clerks and volunteers who are often only with the organization for a short period of time, so without a clear record of calls and letters, it can be difficult to keep track of and follow up with everyone.
According to Laura Merchant, a Reentry Hotline Attorney at Root & Rebound, Clio’s notes field is a huge help here:
We make people be very diligent about leaving notes, and we use them to track a matter over time. So, say somebody calls in and says his name is Jaime Brown. I can look him up in Clio and say, ‘Oh, it looks like you talked to Emily last week. You had a research question, and I can see that she left a note with research to pass along to you, and I can share that with you now.’ Clio really holds all the information that we need to understand everything that we’ve done for a particular client.
Root & Rebound also uses Clio’s custom fields to keep matters organized, and to gather information beyond what a typical law firm might need. For example, the organization gathers information about the impact it’s making to help secure additional funding. Laura explains:
We use custom fields extensively because there’s a lot of information that we want to track that’s different than what a law firm might want to track for a client. For example, we ask them if they have anyone else helping them on the issue, because when we’re doing grant writing, it’s really helpful to say that 80%of the people we survey who call our hotline have indicated they have no one else helping them on this issue.
Knowing who to follow up with (and when to follow up)
Currently, Root & Rebound has about 1,700 open matters in Clio related to calls to its reentry hotline (many people call back for frequent updates). Each new matter has a unique identifier in Clio, and each reentry volunteer is responsible for logging new contacts and matters and following up with the caller if necessary.
However, for complex issues, Root & Rebound may need to follow up with multiple people. For this, Laura says Clio’s related contacts field is extremely helpful.
“It’s really nice to have the related contacts field, and we actually use that a lot, because, someone may call in with a very complicated issue and then you might also talk to a caseworker. You might talk to their sister. You might talk to their parole officer,” Laura explains, “and then we can log all of those in Clio as related contacts.”
Changing the conversation around re-entry
Root & Rebound is making an impact on the challenges that come with reentry, but there’s still a plenty of education needed.
“Even the concept of reentry, the transition from incarceration back into a community … it wasn’t something that people talked about,” Laura says. “So it’s something that we have worked to define as a concept, as something that needs attention and support.”
Laura was formerly a patent lawyer, but she moved to Root & Rebound because she saw how the treatment of people in the criminal justice system was impacting their lives and their communities. For her, changing the conversation around reentry is extremely important, and it’s a cause she’s willing to keep fighting for.
“I felt like as a lawyer I could actually use my skills to start to chip away at that,” she said. “It’s nice to work an issue that is ripe for change and reform, where there’s a big need. It’s overwhelming at times, given just how much needs to change, but it’s also really rewarding.”