​Rev. Troy Vaughn: “We Have to Put Ourselves In Their Shoes”

How Faith Communities Can Support Recovery, Healing, and Justice

Rev. Dr. Troy Vaughn is a community leader who wears many important hats. He is a pioneering minister, an educator, an agency developer, a consultant to key public agencies, and the executive director of the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership (LARRP), a network of 475 organizations that effectively promotes system-wide change for justice-involved individuals and many of whose participating nonprofit groups supply vital support services (housing, employment, treatment/recovery, mental health) for this community.

Called to ministry in 1998, Dr. Vaughn is senior minister of Inglewood Community Church. With his wife, Pastor Darlene A. Vaughn, he founded Christ-Centered Ministries, which serves the community faithfully and well by providing housing and recovery support in collaboration with a range of other service providers.

Thanks to his immense and detailed knowledge of how current public programs aimed at promoting successful reentry outcomes work (or sometimes don’t work), Dr. Vaughn is called upon again and again to represent the community on boards and commissions seeking to improve the focus and effectiveness of various agencies and efforts. He currently serves on the Key Stakeholders Committee that is helping to guide LA County’s LEAD grant submission to the state’s Board of State and Community Corrections. He is also co-chairing the County’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Safety.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

JNJ: The Regional Reentry Partnership continues to play a unique role in bringing service providers and justice advocates together and in thus bringing both real expertise and a powerful demand for accountability to the relevant public agencies. Do you feel that our elected officials and their staffs now finally appreciate LARRP for this, or is there still some resentment and/or some wish to exclude LARRP from the policymaking process?

Dr. Vaughn: We have come a long way from where we started. And it really helps that there is now more transparency and thus more of an opening for LARRP and for our participating organizations to be able to be heard and to influence policy over time. I think the expertise we bring to the table is now increasingly recognized as valuable, which in turn leads to greater respect and trust.

JNJ: What about the level of public funding of community-based restorative and rehabilitative services for returning citizens? Even several years following the start of Public Safety Realignment, some 80% of the Realignment money coming into the County was still being captured by law enforcement. Are we also making some progress on that front?

Dr. Vaughn: I do think we are making progress. With the introduction of the Office of Diversion and Reentry, more money is now being allocated to community-based organizations (CBOs) for the services they are uniquely qualified to provide. The issue we face now is really the challenge of capacitation. We just don’t have enough community-based organizations in the pipeline to provide the services needed. We have been working hard with the County to build capacity for new organizations.

JNJ: Name two or three of what you consider to be bright spots in the overall landscape of reentry support in LA County; and then please also name one or two arenas where we’ve got to do better.

Dr. Vaughn: The Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) is a tremendous bright spot. For years we have talked and talked about diversion; we’ve talked and talked about meaningful reentry support with a wrap-around approach. Now we are really starting to do it: this huge county is gradually shifting to a health-focused approach for addressing public safety. No one can doubt that this is a long-awaited step in the right direction.

Whole-Person Care is another relatively new Department of Health Services project that has promising aspects. Recently we worked with the Whole-Person Care team to create a new classification of jobs that specifically require lived experience as prerequisite to get a job as a Community Health Worker.

Building the capacity of new reentry support organizations is another bright spot. There are several efforts underway with ODR and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to create opportunities for our CBOs to be strengthened and properly aligned in their efforts to provide services.

Where could we do better? That’s easy. We have to do a better job of helping people navigate the system and thereby access the resources that are available to them.

JNJ: Across the state and regionally as well there’s been pushback from law enforcement and others against the major criminal justice reform pieces of recent years – Props 47 and 57 in particular. LA County’s supervisors set up a Blue Ribbon Commission in response to this pushback, and you serve as the community representative on the Commission. Is there any substance to claims that 47 and 57 have led to a resurgence of crime, and do you think the critics of reform will succeed in their effort to pass a ballot measure that modifies these measures?

Dr. Vaughn: No, I do not believe that crime has risen as a result of these history-making reforms.

As you know, a significant part of our work has focused on advocating for those intended to be helped by the breakthrough reforms: we work extremely hard to help folks take advantage of what’s newly available. At LARRP we spend a considerable amount of our resources putting on reclassification events across the County. As well, we continue to advocate for using the savings from Prop 47 in support of rehabilitative and preventive services that we know can work to enhance public safety.

It’s true that we have seen a rise in the need for drug treatment services, but we also see people not availing themselves of the treatment that is available. I think we have an opportunity here to find ways to help people access treatment without criminalizing them for it.

JNJ: As you know, the Justice Not Jails projects seeks to rally people of faith to (a) grow into a deeper understanding of the human cost of our racist and punishment-based CJ system, and (b) join with secular allies in the effort to change what needs to be changed. You are yourself a pastor and a coach to other pastors. What’s your message to people of faith? What are the most important steps they can take, both as individuals and through their congregations, to be of use in relation to this continuing crisis?

Dr. Vaughn: We must come out from behind the four walls of our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples to meet the people where they are located. We have to put ourselves in their shoes. The Scriptures tell us: “Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful high priest before God.” There’s a hint for us there. When we really expose ourselves to the suffering that’s out there, but also to the spirit and courage and beauty to be found among the formerly incarcerated, then our work as people of faith will grow deeper and stronger in ways we can’t even imagine.

That kind of exposure will even draw us closer to God: if you doubt it, just ask the congregations and other faith communities that have begun undertaking this transformative journey.

Rev. Peter Laarman