WHAT WE DO
Men and women returning to our communities after serving periods of incarceration face an array of daunting challenges. Many struggle to overcome the substantial collateral consequences that stem from a criminal conviction and find stability in their post-release lives. Potential employers may refuse or be reluctant to hire formerly incarcerated individuals, which makes securing employment difficult even for skilled workers. Finding housing is another challenge, as many landlords require a criminal background check and certain felony convictions preclude eligibility for Section 8 or other housing assistance. People who were formerly incarcerated may also find it difficult to access basic health care services and other benefits. Failure to obtain these necessities makes it more likely that a recently released person returns to prison.
Post-release adjustment problems are exacerbated if the recently released person emerges from prison with unpaid fees, costs, support obligations, or other debt. Many people leave prison with onerous outstanding financial obligations to their courts of conviction. They may also owe child support or other court-imposed financial obligations that have not been paid during their incarceration.
Unpaid fines, fees, restitution obligations have serious and immediate consequences for people who were formerly incarcerated. Pursuant to Virginia Code § 46.2-395, nonpayment of court-imposed fines makes an individual ineligible to obtain a driver’s license. The lack of a valid driver’s license makes it more difficult to obtain employment, housing and the other building blocks of a stable post-release life.
There are few sources of assistance or financing for the formerly incarcerated who seek to satisfy these obligations. Most are ineligible for bank loans or lines of credit. Payday and car title loans have extremely high interest rates and burdensome repayment terms that often lead to default. Faced with few traditional options, many formerly incarcerated individuals with financial needs return to the criminal choices that led to their incarceration. In short, unpaid financial obligations can create an immediate and insurmountable barrier just beyond the jail house door – a barrier that often results in a return to prison.
To help recently released individuals legitimately overcome this financial barrier and get resettled in the communities to which they return, we have established The Fountain Fund. The Fund is a program that provides low-interest loans to formerly incarcerated people with viable employment prospects. The Fund provides loans to qualified formerly incarcerated individuals at a very low interest rate. For example, loan recipients may use the funds to:
Each recipient signs a loan agreement which obligates him or her to repay the loan and a minimal amount of interest over a fixed period of time. Repaid principal and interest is reinvested in the Fund, which increases capacity to serve more individuals.
Like any lender, the Fund evaluates each applicant for repayment potential and likelihood of success. Instead of relying on a traditional credit score, the Fund individually evaluates the applicant’s employment prospects. Our ideal candidate is a formerly incarcerated individual with both financial need and a marketable skill. These loan funds allow the formerly incarcerated to overcome the financial barriers to a license, job, residence, and other hallmarks of a successful return to their community.
In addition to investing in our recipients with loan funds, the Fund provides additional services to help them achieve success. As a condition of receiving a loan, the Fund requires that the recipient attend Fund-provided or Fund-approved financial literacy training covering basic topics like household budgeting, balancing a checkbook, and saving. The Fund is establishing agreements with local banks and ensures that recipients open and maintain accounts. As the Fund continues to mature and is able to help more and more clients, we envision a peer mentoring component matching loan recipients with individual “sponsors” who have successfully returned to communities following periods of incarceration.
Collaboration with existing community organizations that provide re-entry services is an essential pillar of the Fountain Fund's work. The Fund works closely with these existing organizations and become one component of a network of service providers that provides various forms of support and assistance to this segment of our community. Success for all of these organizations depends upon effective coordination, and the Fund works hard to practice and encourage collaborative partnerships. The law firm of Hunton & Williams, LLP has provided pro bono services and will continue to act as counsel as the Fund is it moves forward.
The Loan Program
We began providing loans to applicants in May 2017.
The Fountain Fund has been incorporated in Virginia and is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.