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After Incarceration, Former Prisoners Face a Tough Journey Home to Find Work, Reunite with Family and Begin Again

NNPA NEWSWIRE — With tens of thousands of prisoners being released each year from jails and prisons across the country, experts agree that a major test on the journey home for these individuals is navigating rocky shoals of the transition between prison and society. Will they be productive citizens, or will they engage in a repeat offense and return to prison? Or will they end up homeless in the streets – or worse?

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By Rachel Holloway, Trice Edney Newswire

Try to imagine what freedom must be like for many prisoners who’ve been released after serving sentences of 10, 15 or 20 years behind bars.

Sure, there is the initial sense of elation among some of the men and women about the prospect of a second chance in society. But that elation frequently gives way to frustration, dismay and even fear over how to begin picking up the pieces of their shattered lives.

Indeed, the questions and obstacles they face can be overwhelming. Will they ever find a job, especially if they lack the skills employers need? What about affordable housing? And where will they find money to pay for food and transportation?

Then there are all the societal changes, starting with the disappearance of transit tokens, not to mention the array of other new technologies, including smartphones, social media platforms, video streaming, e-readers, GPS devices and tablets. These technologies are often dizzyingly unfamiliar to individuals who in many cases went to prison at a time when the lowly flip phone was a high technological achievement. And yet, being able to use those technologies-from Microsoft Word for a resume to LinkedIn for job searching -is critical.

Thousands of ex-convicts face this reality in communities across the country, from Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta and Miami to Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles. To hear these sort of coming home stories is the first step to understand the daunting journey undertaken by these individuals – often unsuccessfully – to rebuild their lives and re-establish ties to family, friends and community after prison.

With tens of thousands of prisoners being released each year from jails and prisons across the country, experts agree that a major test on the journey home for these individuals is navigating rocky shoals of the transition between prison and society. Will they be productive citizens, or will they engage in a repeat offense and return to prison? Or will they end up homeless in the streets – or worse?

Ex-convicts continue to pay after release

How to help ease the transition for inmates returning home has become part of the growing national debate on reforming the criminal justice system at a time when critics say it has incarcerated a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic men while focusing on punishment rather than rehabilitation.

That debate is playing out in Washington, D.C.’s  predominantly black Ward 5, where a proposal to open a residential reentry facility for ex-prisoners has provoked a not-in-my-backyard furor. It has also sparked a larger discussion about the need for programs that confront systemic needs of ex-convicts-including providing housing, job training or drug treatment-while helping them work through the psychological issues that returning home can provoke.

At the center of this debate is CORE DC, a minority-owned, social-services group seeking to open a residential reentry center in Ward 5. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on November 1, 2018 awarded CORE DC the contract to open a 300-bed center and the facility was scheduled to start taking in residents on March 1 of this year.

But plans were put on hold amid concerns from some community members. The delay dealt a blow to efforts to address the pressing needs of former inmates returning home with what CORE DC and supporters say is the organization’s humane approach to helping the former prisoners assimilate into a society with obsolete notions of crime and punishment.

“How do you genuinely engage in criminal justice reform when you still have ancient and outdated attitudes?” CORE DC chairman and CEO Jack Brown said. “These are the kind of monsters under the bed that CORE has to deal with. If you have an organization that is providing these services and their reputation is questionable, of course the community should have concerns. But that is not what the community is getting with CORE.”

Lingering concerns about past service providers

The only reentry center in Washington, D.C., today is Hope Village, located in Southeast Washington. Opened in the late 1970s, it has faced criticism in the past on issues ranging from the treatment of residents to its security practices. In a 53-page 2013 memo, the independent agency in charge of monitoring conditions inside of District correctional facilities found that Hope Village lacked “job readiness resources” and substandard care for residents with mental health needs. In 2016, a nonprofit criminal justice advocacy group called the Council for Court Excellence implored the BOP to end its contract with Hope Village.

When Northeast Washington residents got word that a new reentry center would open in Ward 5, some expressed reservations. Chief among their questions was whether CORE DC’s reentry home would be a good neighbor, a concern that seemingly reflected lingering concerns the community had from past experiences.

In fact, just weeks after CORE DC’s Ward 5 project was announced, two former Hope Village residents who had escaped and committed crimes were sentenced to prison, one for a 27-month term and the other for 33 months. The episode seemed to fuel falsehoods and misconceptions about the indispensable role that experts say transitional services such as temporary housing and job training have in ensuring former inmates have the tools needed for a second chance.

As the drip-drip of troubling reports coming out of Southeast Washington cast a dark shadow over a possible new reentry center in Northeast Washington, CORE DC reached out to local lawmakers while the organization’s leadership joined community hearings convened to address questions surrounding the planned facility.

CORE DC says it hoped to provide facts and clarity to the discussion.

“At our facilities, the program director is in daily communication with Bureau of Prisons,” Brown said. “Most people in the community believe you get to hang out from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m at outside of the center, not at CORE. We don’t see too many program failures because our clients have jobs that we work with them to get in the construction industry, technology sector and other livable wage jobs.”

But dialogue has sometimes been elusive-and sometimes heated.

Halfway houses, a loaded term

At one community meeting, a pamphlet was left behind that warned of the grave dangers of “halfway houses,” a term that those in the criminal-justice world say is outdated and filled with a negative connotation. “Halfway houses accept sex offenders, drug offenders, convicted murders and rapists,” the pamphlet read. A group of 12 Northeast residents sued, and on December 21, CORE DC lost its lease on the property.

There is also the fact that Hope Village, which has won more than $125 million in federal contracts since 2006, filed a protest against the BOP contract with CORE DC. The protest, filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), leveled a number of charges, including that Hope Village lost the contract because it refused to take in sex offenders. In a decision made on Feb. 21, the GAO dismissed Hope Village’s highly charged claim, while raising technical questions about CORE DC’s use of the property it proposed for its center.

CORE DC said that it remains committed to the DC area.

“We remain committed to reunifying the families and restoring the communities that these individuals leave behind,” Brown said, “But in order to address these complicated issues, the community deserves a productive, fact-driven dialogue, not falsehoods and fear-mongering.”

In recent weeks, CORE Services Group, of which CORE DC is an affiliate, has invited Ward 5 leaders to tour other reentry centers the organization operates. The nonprofit, founded in 2005, has invited local representatives to a reentry center in Brooklyn, New York, where security standards have been lauded in routine reviews by the BOP.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the community will embrace CORE DC as a new neighbor. But with an estimated 8,000 former inmates returning home to Washington every year, advocates say reentry centers are a proven part of the solution, even as they caution that the District, just like communities around the country, need a comprehensive approach.

The writer, Rachel Holloway, can be contacted at holloway75@gmail.com.

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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