D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has long expressed concern about returning citizens in the District of Columbia, going back to her days as a Ward 4 council member.
As mayor, she has made it a point to connect with these District residents and her latest initiative will make sure they will be able to get back into the mainstream of life in the city.
On Feb. 12, the mayor launched the READY (Resources to Empower and Develop You) Center that will serve as a one-stop shop where returning citizens can access critical post-release services, obtain vital documents and get referrals to treatment programs for substance abuse and mental health.
“To give more returning citizens a fair shot, we must continue building strong support systems for men and women transitioning back into the community,” the mayor said. “By partnering with community-based organizations and working across D.C. government agencies, we can set more residents up for success by providing more immediate access to employment, housing, educational opportunities, health care and more.”
The READY Center sits behind the Correctional Treatment Facility located at 1901 E Street SE.
MORCA (Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizen Affairs) and the departments of corrections, behavioral health, human services, employment services, motor vehicles and community-based organizations work as partners to coordinate the activities of the READY Center.
There are approximately 60,000 returning citizens living in the District and from 2,000 to 8,000 come back to the city after serving their time.
Many years ago, a returning citizen would come back to the District from Lorton or from another federal facility and it would be on them to get back on their feet to become a productive member of society. The District had churches and some community organizations to help returning citizens but hardly any program from the city government until Marion Barry became mayor in 1979.
Barry worked to reduce recidivism during his years as mayor and energized the city’s programs to serve returning citizens.
With the advent of the READY Center, an incarcerated District resident will fill out an interest card 30 days prior to their release. When they are in the city, they will visit the READY Center and the staff will connect them with its partners for further action.
All follow-up visits will take place at the agencies tasked with helping the returning citizens. Brian Ferguson, the director of MORCA, expressed satisfaction with the program.
“This marks a significant milestone in the District’s already nationally recognized re-entry services, as several core service agencies collaborate to ensure that the men and women leaving the jail are given direct access to the essential resources needed to create successful transitions back into society,” Ferguson said.
Quincy Booth, the director of corrections, said the re-entry process “begins the day of admittance into our facilities.”
“We want them to leave with a plan,” Booth said. “This approach helps us to reduce recidivism.”
Dr. Unique Morris-Hughes, director of the city’s employment services department, embraces the READY Center saying “investing in our returning citizen population is a win-win proposition that benefits our residents and impacts our neighborhoods and communities.”
Deborah Rowe, executive director of Returning Citizens United, said the READY Center has a strong mission to fulfill.
“The Bowser administration has assembled a good team and this will be good for people coming home from being incarcerated,” she said.
Rowe said returning citizens, especially those without strong family ties, will need assistance getting health benefits, a mailing address, social and wraparound services and identification cards.
“Some haven’t been in D.C. for years and they need to adjust to the changes in the city,” she said. “Some have been gone just a few years and need to get back on the right track to being good citizens.”
Rowe said she travels to federal facilities to counsel District inmates on what’s available to them once they get back to the city. She finds the proactive approach prepares the inmate for some of the challenges that lie ahead when they get their freedom.
“There are very few cities that do what we do here in Washington,” she noted.
Eric Weaver, who serves as the chairman of the National Association of Returning Citizens, said the center can help returning citizens better manage issues that residents deal with.
“Let’s look at the Department of Motor Vehicles,” Weaver said. “When a returning citizen goes into the office to get an identification and they look at the long line they may say ‘I’ll come back tomorrow’ and will come back the next day and get discouraged again. The READY Center can help them through that particular process and eliminate the barriers with that and other things and then they are on their way to becoming productive citizens.”