THE DISTRICT IS PROCEEDING WITH PLANS TO EXPAND AND IMPROVE REENTRY FOR PEOPLE RELEASED FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS (JAIL)

In 2017, the District government doubled by adding two to the counseling staff in the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens Affairs (“MORCA”). It also allocated $2.4 M for the creation of a “Portal of Reentry” under the auspices of the District’s Department of Corrections. PNO’s Malcolm C. Young and Norman Brown testified on these matters at a 1 May 2017 Council Committee hearing. Both described PNO’s program model, including its practice of starting to work with individuals scheduled to return from the BOP at least six months in advance of their transfer to a halfway house.

Mid-year, Councilmember Robert White introduced the “Returning Citizens Opportunity to Succeed Amendment Act of 2017.”  Provisions of the Act would require MORCA to reach out to District residents six months in advance of their release from the BOP. In testimony before the Committee on 7 December 2017, Young and Brown declared that the Act has “the potential … to bring the District of Columbia to the forefront among cities and localities that seek to improve reentry from the federal prison system.”

In both their written statement and testimony, Young and Brown affirmed the feasibility of contacting prisoners in advance of release, meeting the concerns of witnesses who were skeptical about the BOP’s willingness or ability to disclose the identity of citizens scheduled to be returned to the District.  Under leadership of Chair Anita Bonds, the Committee unanimously approved the Act, which is now pending before the full Council.

(The 7 December 2017 hearing may be streamed here. Malcolm Young’s testimony begins at 54:00 following by Norman Brown’s at 1:02:45.)

THE RECENTLY-ESTABLISHED REENTRY ACTION NETWORK (“RAN”) ASKS THE COUNCIL FOR INCREASED FUNDING FOR COMMUNITY-BASED PROGRAMS

Also in the District in 2017, a group of reentry service providers created an informal association, the Reentry Action Network or RAN, to pool information and advance their cause. PNO is a participating member of the RAN.

As of April 2018, the Portal’s launch has been pushed back until late spring or early summer of 2018. Key leading staff have been hired and are tackling issues such as the mechanics of information exchanges between DOC, the Portal and MORCA, the Portal’s location and, to the extent there is any control over it, the Portal’s physical layout. Ran and community-based reentry service providers are attempting to define working relationships with the DOC and the Portal.

At this time it has become clear that when operational the Portal will increase the number of inmates referred to MORCA and community-based organizations for assistance with reentry. However, the Mayor’s budget for 2019 provided no increase in funding for either the Portal, MORCA or community-based services.

On March 29, 2018, RAN’s Co-Chairs Tara Libert of Free Minds Book Club and Paula Thompson Felder of Voices for a Second Chance neatly sized up the situation with testimony before the Council of the District of Columbia’s Committee on the Judiciary, Budget Oversight Hearing Office for the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice:

Only nine of [the 24 community-based organizations providing reentry services who are] our 24 RAN members currently receive funding [from the District government]. * * * From our experience, they are also much more likely to receive funding from foundations, many of which do not offer funding for re-entry services whatsoever. Often, the government is the only funding source for returning citizens. However, despite the serious and growing dialogue surrounding re-entry work, there continues to be a lack of funding from the District to support it. Instead, CBOs spend considerable time and resources begging for grants from foundations all over the country, the overwhelmingly majority of which do not fund re-entry services, especially services that include work with jails and prisons to prepare individuals for release.

PNO ENDORSES THE RAN’S REQUEST AND CALLS UPON THE DISTRICT TO DELIVER REENTRY SERVICES FOR D. C. RESIDENTS IN THE FEDERAL BOP

PNOs’ Malcolm Young and Norman Brown testified before the same committee in support of RAN’s recommendation for increased funding for reentry.  Even before there is an increase in referrals, PNO reported, community-based reentry resources were adequate to serve less than one-twelfth of returning citizens released from the Department of Corrections, never mind those released from the BOP:

Not every individual leaving DOC needs reentry services. But clearly a capacity to assist only one twelfth, or 8% of all citizens returning from the DOC is inadequate. The situation is even worse when you consider the likelihood that service in some areas of need, notably mental health, may be grossly inadequate for the number of returning citizens needing those services. Nor do these numbers include citizens returning from the BOP to whom several of the OVSJG grantees provide services.

PNO also expressed concern about the lack of reentry support for an approximately 150 D. C. residents returning from the BOP each month.  While a few of them receive reentry support from OVSJG grant-funded programs such as Free Minds Book Club which is actively engaged with individuals in the BOP, University Legal Services and other OVSG grant funded programs:

…almost none of the 150 District citizens released by BOP receive individual guidance or counseling in advance of release. This is an important lack as more than one-third of the individuals released by BOP did not go through the BOP’s contract halfway house system. These individuals will not be served by the Portal. Soon, they may have a difficult time accessing reentry programs in the District which will be handling an increased DOC caseload.

PNO requested the Council consider additional budgeting support for the benefit of D. C. residents who will be returning from the Bureau of Prisons in addition to increasing funding for existing programs serving principally individuals returning from the DOC.

Back before the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization on the same day, Norman Brown and Malcolm Young offered testimony similar to that given the Judiciary Committee. As a follow-up, Chair Anita Bonds invited Young and Brown to describe PNO’s services “for the public.”   Council member Robert White, a member of the Committee, expressed appreciation for the information PNO has provided his office and the Committee.

Next steps:  PNO will offer advice and opinion as District officials further consider reentry policy and funding.