Action Plan for Reentry in DC-Criminal Justice Coordinating Council-DC Public Safety

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[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes:  From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety.  I’m your host, Leonard Sipes.  The title for today’s program is “An Action Plan for Reentry in Washington, DC.”  There’s going to be a meeting on Thursday, February 9th at the old City Council chamber, 441 Fourth Street, from 6-8 PM.  There will be information on the website for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, www.cjcc.dc.gov.  I’ll give that out several times throughout the course of the program, and what we’re looking at today, ladies and gentlemen, is the reentry committee’s report.  The reentry committee from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council created a series of recommendations and we’re here today to talk about those recommendations.  We have three principles with us today, Cedric Hendricks, the Associate Director of my agency, Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.  We have Charles Thornton, the Director of the Office on Returning Citizen Affairs, and we have Chris Shorter, Chief of Staff, Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, and gentlemen, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Cedric Hendricks:  Thank you.

Charles Thornton:  Thank you.

Chris Shorter:  Thank you very much.

Len Sipes:  Cedric, give us an overview of the work of the council, please.

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, we have the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which is a body that consists of all of the principles from the criminal justice agencies of the District of Columbia, and that’s the federal agencies as well as the District of Columbia governmental agencies, and one of the working committees of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is the Reentry Steering Committee, and it has been co-chaired by myself and Charles Thornton.  Now most significantly, in December of 2010, our steering committee convened a city-wide reentry strategic planning summit and pulled together citizens from across the District of Columbia along with government representatives, faith community representatives, and we launched into a discussion of reentry and attempted to identify the challenges associated with it that needed to be addressed in order to create an environment in the District of Columbia where more men and women could successfully return home from prison. So the outgrowth of that effort was the formation of a number of working groups to address the action items that emerged from that summit meeting.  Those work-groups were in the areas of healthcare, education and training, housing, healthcare, and juvenile reentry, and a year later we’re at the point where we have I wouldn’t say completed the work of those groups, but we have produced a report and some work product that we’re ready to share with the larger community. So the event that we are hosting on February 9th provides us with the opportunity to present our report and recommendations to the citizens of the District of Columbia.

Len Sipes:  Again, I want to remind everybody, February 9th at the old City Council Chamber, 441 Forth Street from 6-8 PM.  Again, information on the website of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, www.cjcc.dc.gov.  Charles Thornton, you lead the effort in terms of people coming back from the prison system into the District of Columbia.  What is your take on all this?

Charles Thornton:  Well again, as Cedric was saying, we reached out across the city and brought in, you know, the faith community, residents of District of Columbia, people who are concerned about reentry in the city, and convened this symposium and again, out of that symposium we came up with five working groups who will work on creating recommendations to move forward as a plan of action which will be the reentry plan for the District of Columbia. So involved in that plan is the District agencies, federal government agencies, as well as community partners.

Cedric Hendricks:  And let me just point out that those committee parties include returning citizens.

Charles Thornton:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Right, it includes the people that have returned from prison.

Charles Thornton:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Absolutely, okay.

Charles Thornton:  And it’s those who have a huge impact on the – and we specifically reached out to successful re-entrants, re-entrants who have come back and they’ve successfully reentered society.  So we want to kind of look at success and duplicating success, and that’s kind of one of the recommendations that came out of the employment work group

Len Sipes:  Okay.  Chris Shorter, the Chief of Staff, Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, what is your take on all this?

Chris Shorter:  Well, let me say first that I was extremely excited to be approached to co-chair such an important work-group.  I co-chaired the work-group for juvenile reentry with Fannie Barksdale, who is the Deputy Director for Court Social Services.  We had an array of representatives from federal and District agencies in the area.  Of course, Court Social Services, the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, but also the Department of Health, the office of the state superintendent of education, the Department of Mental Health, the Public Defender’s Service and, of course, representatives from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.  It was a very exciting work-group. Everyone there participated, and the agencies represented had a stake in reentry for juveniles in the district.  The work-group held focus groups with youth, families, case managers, probation officers, and they all had a lot to say about juvenile reentry in the District and how to return young people in a way that benefits the community and benefits them.  I’m excited about the recommendations and excited to continue the work of the work-group.

Len Sipes:  Okay, so the whole idea between the three of you is that everybody in the city has gotten together, the federal agencies, the DC agencies, the returning citizens, everybody, the faith-based community.  Everybody plays a piece in this.  We have an action plan moving forward.  What are some of those recommendations?

Charles Thornton:  Well, in the employment work-group, some of the recommendations – that committee was co-chaired by Charles Jones from the Department of Employment Services.  Brought a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of experience to this process, but in reference to the recommendations, one of the recommendations was that we need to definitely market the benefits of hiring returned citizens to the community, and when I say the community, I’m speaking directly to the business community, the community that hire in the District of Columbia.  There are laws that have been in the book that we haven’t been taking advantage of, tax credits.  There’s been, again, tax credits that are available for hiring returning citizens.  There’s also laws for…

Chris Shorter:  Bonding.

Len Sipes:  Yeah, there’s a bonding program, right.

Charles Thornton:  Bonding program.  Again, it’s educating the public but more importantly also arming the returning citizen with this information so when they go for interviews, they have it.

Len Sipes:  Sure.  So the whole idea is to be sure that the business community, everybody understands that there are very definite benefits in terms of hiring people who are out of the prison system, hiring people under our supervision.

Charles Thornton:  Absolutely.

Len Sipes:  Okay, what else, gentlemen?

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, let me just add onto what Charles was saying because one of the other recommendations was for the creation of a model training program, and I should say that a couple of years ago, we had what I considered to be a stellar model employment training program that was focused on returning citizens.  It was called the Hospitality Training and Internship Program, and there you had collaboration of the federal government with the local government and the business community working to try and prepare people for employment opportunities in the hospitality industry.  Specifically, you had individuals who were recruited from the halfway houses, and that’s the Whole Village Halfway House for Men and the Fairview Halfway House for Women, and the recruiting was done with the assistance of the Bureau of Prisons and the halfway house staff, and then they were moved into a program that was five months in duration. The first two months of the program included classroom instruction that was provided by the University of the District of Columbia and the site for that was the Hospitality Public Charter School, and after the two months of classroom instruction, the individuals were tested and if they passed the test, they received a certification universally recognized by the hospitality industry.  Now following that, they would enter into a three-month internship at a work site within the hospitality industry.  All the while they were participating, that’s for the entire five months, they would receive a stipend that was provided by the DC Department of Employment Services, so that enabled them to sustain themselves through this training experience.  You had, of course, the CSOSA involved because many of the individuals, after leaving the halfway house, came to use for supervision.  The Hotel Association of Washington, DC was a participant in this and attempted early on to identify hotels that could provide training venues for the internships.  That program was funded for just one year.  We were able to move 60 individuals through it with some success.  I would like to see a program like that replicated, either in the hospitality industry or some other employment sector because again, what it represented was total collaboration and ultimately a successful outcome.

Len Sipes:  And I would imagine the work of the Reentry Steering Committee, the whole idea of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, the whole idea is to do more of that.  The whole idea of that is to gain more partnerships within the business community, more partnerships across the board to try to gain employment and training for as many people coming out of the prison system as humanly possible, so that is the whole idea, correct?

Chris Shorter:  Absolutely, and I would say that that’s the case for adults and for juveniles.  What we found during the first six months of our work together as a working group, and that’s the juvenile reentry working group, 166 young people returned from out-of-state residential treatment centers.  Of that 166 youth, we found that they were returning from residential treatment centers to independent living programs, to group homes, to foster care homes, but the great majority – in fact, 49% of that 166 were returning home.  So it became very important in our recommendations that we articulated the types of services and supports that young people needed.  That’s including workforce development, education, and housing.  So for us, our recommendations centered around all of those young people that are coming home, and it’s a great number.

Len Sipes:  But we have economic issues within the District of Columbia as we do throughout the country, so I would imagine once again, the whole idea behind the work of the committee is to gather in as many people as humanly possible to create the partnerships to overcome obstacles of budget, right?

Cedric Hendricks:  Absolutely.

Charles Thornton:  Absolutely.

Cedric Hendricks:  And then another thing that’s important, too, is education and training.  We got a work-group that addressed that, but another deficit that we have to overcome is the skill deficit. In order for folks who have criminal histories to compete for employment, they’ve got to have skills that are valuable or marketable in this community, and we’re challenged in that – for example, I think it’s 36% of the clients that we have under supervision do not have diplomas or GEDs, which is not a good thing in a knowledge-driven labor market like this one, and while we can certainly assist people with that, you still need more in order to compete.  The benefit of that hospitality training program was that people got a certification.  There was some documented recognition of your acquisition of knowledge and skills, and we need to pursue more of that.  One of the other great programs that I think serves as a model in this town is DC Central Kitchen where they are, right now for example, recruiting for yet another class in culinary arts again in April.  We have a great number of our clients who have successfully migrated through the DC Central Kitchen training program and have gotten jobs in the restaurant industry around here.  So that program is a rigorous one.  It’s a couple of months in duration.  During the course of that, you do a couple of weeks at a restaurant perfecting your skills and then I think they have over an 80% placement rate for their graduates.  So that’s really where I think we need to invest ourselves in the future in identifying employment sectors that are open to considering individuals with criminal histories and then making sure we understand the skill sets that are required for entry into those occupational sectors and then doing our utmost working in conjunction with the other governmental partners, the faith community, and the private sector to prepare more and more people to kind of go out here and compete for knowledge-driven or skill-based jobs.

Len Sipes:  The bottom line, I think all of us would agree, is that the research is pretty clear that more individuals are hired, the less they recidivate, the less they call society.  The vast majority are parents, so they’re in a position of taking care of their kids.  I mean, this is a win-win situation for everybody.  It’s just getting through the barriers and creating more opportunities.

Cedric Hendricks:  Let me just say one of the products of the committee’s work was that in the report, you will find a listing of employment and training programs that are – well, education and training programs that are available in the District of Columbia.  There are lots of them, but what we also set out here are the age requirements, basically what one needs to know to get into these programs and who’s responsible for funding these programs. In fact, another important product – and this is going to take us into another area that our colleagues on the committee worked on – is  housing.  There is a listing of housing resources in this report, as well, that will be extremely useful to returning citizens, as well as individuals at agencies like ours who are charged with assisting them to address their abundant needs.

Len Sipes:  We’re more than halfway through the program.  Let me reintroduce our guests.  Cedric Hendricks, the Associate Director of the Court Services at Offender Supervision Agency, my agency; Charles Thornton, the Director of the Office on Returning Citizens, and Charles Shorter, the Chief of Staff and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.  We’re talking about a meeting that’s going to take place on February 9th at the old City Council Chamber, 441 Fourth Street, from 6-8 PM.  Information can be found at www.cjcc.dc.gov – www.cjcc.dc.gov.  It’s the reentry steering committee report from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.  Alright gentlemen, will people be allowed to discuss these findings with you, debate the findings with you?  We’re encouraging the public to come to this?

Chris Shorter:  Absolutely.  It’s absolutely open to the public and we are looking forward to sort of having an open discussion about what we found.  To add to what Cedric just mentioned as far as the final report, there are a number of resources in the report that are going to be helpful not just to citizens but also to practitioners.  So part of what I mentioned earlier about us having focus groups with case managers and probation officers dealing with juveniles is just what Cedric mentioned.  They need resources.  They need to be able to refer young people to housing, education, workforce development programs.  What we found in our work is that young people returning either back into the District or returning from group homes and other out-of-home placements back home, there are a lot of great needs, and those needs are mental health, those needs are housing, those needs are education.  So how we establish appropriate linkages is extremely important.  Another resource that’s in the final report is just a full description of the reentry system that’s currently in place in the District, what kinds of programs and services are available to young people and to their parents.  Another very important aspect of the work that we did was the focus groups.  We learned from parents and from case managers and probation officers and from some extent, from the youth that we spoke to is that youth are sent away.  They are expected to go through a transformation, a treatment transformation.  They return home in a different place, but if we’re not working with parents and if we’re not working with their community, the community isn’t prepared, the family isn’t prepared, the home isn’t ready for this young person.

Len Sipes:  There’s got to be a seamless transition from a facility or from a group home back into the community. There should be services waiting for that individual and whose services should be seamless.  They should flow evenly from wherever he was before, she was before, back into the District of Columbia, correct?

Chris Shorter:  Absolutely right.

Cedric Hendricks:  And on that point, we had a work-group that focused on healthcare, and that is an area where continuity of care becomes extremely important, and in order to facilitate continuity of care, there’s got to be communication between the releasing institutions and community-based care providers.  Unity Healthcare, which is a major local healthcare provider in the city related to us that they, at their reentry healthcare center, time and again see individuals coming there who don’t have their medical records from the time that they were incarcerated who are presenting with various urgent medical needs, and in order for Unity to get the records of that person’s prior treatment, they have heretofore had to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the Bureau of Prisons, which is a very time-consuming thing to undertake and of course, that delay adversely effects their ability to provide responsive and timely care.

What was worked out through the dialog that occurred through our health work-group was that Unity and the Bureau of Prison sat down and worked our an arrangement whereby if Unity has assigned release of information from an individual, it can be transmitted to the mid-Atlantic regional office of the Bureau of Prisons and then a person there can secure the records, the medical records that are necessary, and then transmit them directly back to the point of contact at Unity.  So it is something that is saving a lot of time and helping to advance the delivery of healthcare to individuals who have come home with healthcare needs.  We are continuing the discussions with the Bureau of Prisons around health-related information sharing so that agencies like CSOSA, which is responsible for community supervision and has to often make referrals for medical or mental health services, we can get the information that we need, the medical records that we need in order to make appropriate referrals.  So there are accomplishments, but yet there is work remaining to be done, and that’s, I think, the message of the event on the 9th, that we have worked a year, we have completed some things.  We’ve got some deliverables that are on the table that people can put to work right now, but there’s more work that we’ve identified that needs to be done, and our hope is that there will be more individuals that will step up to the plate and join us in this work effort as we go forward.

Len Sipes:  Let me ask you about the philosophy of that, if everybody did step up.  I mean, within existing resources, if everybody did step up, if you had cooperation across the board, the bottom line of what we’re talking about is reduced recidivism once again – fewer crimes, just a dramatic reduction in terms of the money that we spend on this issue with a safer city.  I mean, that’s the bottom line.  If everybody got together and cooperated, that would be the result, correct?

Chris Shorter:  That’s absolutely right.  I mean, in fact, I’m very proud to say that DORS has a very robust partnership with dozens of community-based service providers or nonprofits that provide mentoring, tutoring, monitoring, educational supported services that we refer to as DC Youth Link.  That initiative is lead by or is in partnership with Progressive Life Center and East of the River Clergy, Policy, Community Partnership, and so we work with both of those organizations to broker services throughout all of the wards in the District of Columbia for young people who are committed to DORS.  So this is one part of that partnership and this collaboration where we’re not just talking about or relying on government to provide all those services, but we’re saying to the community we understand that young people coming back home must come back to their communities.  You know them.  You know their communities, and we would like to work with you to provide those services and support.

Len Sipes:  And it’s the same with us in terms of the power of mentoring with the faith-based program within CSOSA as the whole idea of the mosques, church, synagogues.  You’re talking about literally hundreds of people, lots of churches, lots of religious organizations coming together to help individuals coming out of the prison system, providing that direct one-on-one mentoring that is so necessary for so many people to cross the bridge.  Yet, that’s another example.  So we’re looking for business, we’re looking for the faith community, we’re looking for government, we’re looking for everybody across the board to join the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in this effort, correct?

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, let me just say Charles Thornton’s office of Returning Citizens’ Affairs just hosted a wonderful community event where he recognized a whole host of community partners that have stepped forward to assist returning citizen.  You want to talk about that, Charles?

Charles Thornton:  Absolutely, and that was the goal of that forum was to bring in all of these partners, community partners who have been doing this work for years and just recognizing because one of the things we do know is that it’s going to take all of the resources that we’ve just been talking about to put a dent into this.  One of the things I want to go back to in reference to the recommendations.  Some of the recommendations that have come out we’ve already begun to work on.  For example, in the employment work-group, we came up with a recommendation that there needs to be some form of coordination with the BOP institutions where we found that in most cases, we had individual adults coming back to the city from institutions that just was not aware of one, the resources that are in the city, and two, there was no collaboration from Michigan or wherever with the businesses in the Districts, so people were coming back really cold.  So what the recommendation was that we need to really reach out to the BOP facilities as well as some of the contract facilities where our men and women are staying and see exactly what is available in those institutions and link them up with what’s available in the District in terms of the job market.

Len Sipes:  I do want to clarify that for the people outside of the Washington DC metropolitan area that individuals within the District of Columbia, DC code offenders, they are sentenced to federal prison.  So they go to federal prisons literally spread throughout the country, in some cases thousands of miles away.  So the coordinating their reentry back into the District of Columbia is a daunting task.

Cedric Hendricks:  Right, but Charles, for example, just led a couple of road trips to some facilities.  Why don’t you talk a little bit about that, Charles?

Charles Thornton:  Yeah, again, as part of the recommendations, so as part of establishing those relationships, what we found is that in some cases, we have to go out to the institutions.  So we put together a resource team and an outreach team, and what those teams done, and they’re made up of returning citizens, some business owner returning citizens, and what we did was we went out to a couple of the contract institutions and a few BOP institutions and went to them as opposed to them coming to us, and we did a resource day, and we went up there and the goal was to give individuals 90 days or less in terms of on their way home a real snapshot of what’s here in the District and what to expect, and we brought some of those resources with us, so you can sign up right there.  For example, the Culinary Kitchen went out on a couple of the road trips with us, and so we found out we have to be creative like that.

Len Sipes:  We only have a couple minutes left.  Gentlemen, major recommendations that we haven’t gotten to yet?

Cedric Hendricks:  Well, let me just underscore that the areas of great challenge lie in housing, healthcare, education, and employment, and so we need to develop kind of a robust base of support in each and every one of those areas.  As I’ve mentioned, we’ve done some things, we’ve produced some products that are going to be helpful in informing individuals about the resources that are out here, but while there are service providers out here offering resources, there just aren’t enough.  In the housing arena, for example, day in and day out, we’re all confronted with individuals who have come home and have nowhere to go.  At CSOSA, we say that on any given day, we have 800 of our clients living in a homeless shelter in the District of Columbia.  These are individuals that can’t go home for various reasons, don’t have the financial resources to get their own place, yet living in a shelter really does not provide the kind of support one needs to successfully reintegrate back into the community.  So we need more transitional housing resources, but resources like that cost money.

Len Sipes:  Sure.  It’s a daunting task.  Charles, please.

Charles Thornton:  Yes, I wanted to go into, again, the going out into the institutions, and I will add that we just recently had the mayor sign off on two individuals that would make up part of the CIC, which is the Correction Institution Council, which task is to go out to BOP prisons and do a report on actually what those prisons are offering District residents who are staying there.  So the mayor sent up his two nominees to the Council, and we’re waiting on the Council’s one, so we’ll have that commissioned forum.

Len Sipes:  Okay, we have 30 seconds.  Final thoughts.

Chris Shorter:  Well, for the juvenile reentry group, and the reason I was so excited to participate with Cedric on this effort is the jurisdictions that are having the most success with juvenile reentry are jurisdictions that collaborate.  So I’m extremely excited that we are all collaborating in this way – Court Social Services, CSOSA, and others – to do a better job with reentry.

Len Sipes:  And the bottom line behind that collaboration comes on Thursday, February 9th at the old City Council Chamber, 441 Fourth Street, from 6-8 PM.  You’re going to find information about this event on the website of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, www.cjcc.dc.gov – www.cjcc.dc.gov.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is DC Public Safety.  Our guests today have been Cedric Hendricks, Associate Director of Court Services at Offender Supervision Agency; Charles Thornton, the Director of the Office of Returning Citizens; and Chris Shorter, who’s Chief of Staff, Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.  We appreciate your calls, letters.  We appreciate your emails, your comments, your criticisms, and please have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

Cedric Hendricks:  And please come out on February 9th.

Chris Shorter:  That’s right.

Len Sipes:  Please come out.  Thank you.

[Audio End]

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