Op-EdOpinion

BROWN: Helping Former Inmates Transition to Life Outside Prison is Key to Criminal Justice Reform

The recent unease in northeast Washington, D.C., around a proposed transitional reentry center for formerly incarcerated individuals has raised understandable questions about the societal role of such transitional centers. While the project is now stalled, concerns voiced by some Ward 5 residents deserve to be addressed — especially because D.C. is well-positioned to lead the nation’s efforts to grapple with an array of criminal justice challenges.

To be sure, a single program cannot on its own solve problems that have been generations in the making, including high recidivism rates, the spiraling costs of corrections programs, overcrowded prisons, mass incarcerations and criminal-justice policies that disproportionately punish Black and Hispanic men andseparate them from their families and communities. But ignoring the problem or looking for others to solve it will most certainly not improve things.

Jack Brown
CORE CEO Jack Brown

I have a responsibility, both personal and professional, to clearly explain what reentry centers like the one at the center of this debate are all about. I am the chief executive officer of CORE, the organization that proposed the center in northeast Washington. Mission-driven, our organization helps former inmates, homeless families, runaway youth and others transform their lives for the better by providing structured, transitional housing and access to critical social and supportive services.

For more than 20 years, CORE’s senior leadership has been empowering its clients, many of them men, face the daunting task of returning to their communities. These men — who are fathers, brothers and sons — require assistance to reenter the workforce, establish independence, reunite with family and regain their self-respect. With the help of case managers and social services coordinators, our residents participate in a comprehensive assessment and develop a reentry plan. Residents are also paired with full-time job placement specialists who help them secure livable wages and meaningful employment.

Our life and transitional skills coaches work with residents to adjust to many of the significant changes their communities — and society as a whole — have undergone during their incarceration. The challenges these men confront include having to adapt to new societal and cultural norms, as well as needing to learn new technologies and getting around communities that may no longer seem familiar.

Guided by our belief that employment and permanent housing are the twin keys to long-term success and preventing recidivism, we offer workshops ranging from resume-writing and interviewing skills to how to knot a tie and use the Internet.

This round-the-clock support helps clients make significant strides. Through it, clients pick up tools for managing everything from personal relationships to their finances.

Our commitment to values-centered support is backed by our lengthy experience. And it can have a truly extraordinary impact, such as when an estranged father reunites with his children.

Despite CORE’s track record of achieving such outcomes for former inmates, we know that some Ward 5 residents have asked what a reentry center would mean for them and their neighborhood.

Unfortunately, misinformation and falsehoods have circulated and stood in the way of a fruitful dialogue with members of the community who had questions about public safety.

While I cannot speak to the security conditions at transitional reentry centers operated by other providers, I can proudly assure you that CORE works tirelessly to achieve the absolute highest standards of security. In fact, our New York City facility has been lauded in regular reviews by Federal Bureau of Prisons for the high quality of our community relations and CORE’s success in “maintaining accountability of the residents.”

CORE also appreciates the need to provide transportation assistance to our clients. This is a vital component of our services. In Washington, CORE vans will ferry residents back and forth from Metro stops. 

Simply put, we take our commitment to be a good neighbor very seriously. CORE identified northeast Washington as an appropriate location for one of our programs for several reasons, including that many of the individuals who would be housed there are from the D.C. region. They deserve the opportunity to return home with support and dignity.

We believe that Ward 5 has the opportunity to set a powerful example of community corrections done right, curbing recidivism by combining CORE’s rigorous yet compassionate transitional support initiatives.

Finally, transitional reentry centers bring a socioeconomic benefit to the communities they serve, by facilitating the transition from inmate to stable, wage-earning members of their families and communities.

CORE welcomes the opportunity to continue this critically important conversation with the people of Ward 5.

Jack Brown is chief executive officer of CORE Services Group.

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