On February 14, the Council for Court Excellence held its Beyond Second Chances Re-entry Forum as a follow-up to the ground-breaking report CCE released in December 2016.
More than 130 returning citizens, re-entry service providers and advocates, DC and federal government officials, and concerned community members attended.
The event began with a breakfast networking reception at which guests had the opportunity to explore an interactive photographic exhibit of returning citizens' portraits by local photographer Kristin Adair, who provided the portraits for the Beyond Second Chances report pro bono.
The forum featured a panel of returning citizens who shared their re-entry experiences -- both struggles and successes. Carlos Tyler said that Hope Village halfway house, which is supposed to provide re-entry services, such as housing placement, employment counseling, and health care access, was the worst part of his incarceration other than solitary confinement. Returning citizens, who come home to DC from prisons as far away as California, can find it difficult to adjust to a city that has changed drastically while they were incarcerated. Norman Brown observed, "It can dehumanize you when you can't touch your family and reconnect," because of being incarcerated so far away. Speaking to the challenges of finding employment after returning from jail or prison, Mr. Brown said, "What we want is a hand up -- not a handout."
To this end, CCE, in partnership with the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development, launched the Fair Chance Business Pledge to encourage businesses and consumers to take action to provide opportunities for returning citizens to participate in the DC economy. Pledge signatories commit to fair hiring practices for returning citizens and to support businesses that hire fairly and/or are run by returning citizens.
The Fair Chance Business Pledge's first signatory is Access Green, LLC, an eco-contracting firm founded in 2008 and
headquartered in the Eckington neighborhood of Northeast DC. CEO Joe Andronaco shared his philosophy that Access Green has an employee mindfulness program because unaddressed trauma hinders success, which may be a challenge for returning citizens. Access Green is committed to local workforce development, including hiring and training returning citizens.
"We realize that it will take time to build broad support for the pledge, but we need to get started," says CCE policy analyst Emily Tatro. "Sustainable employment is one key to success for returning citizens, and the pledge is a way to involve the entire community in addressing an issue that affects the entire District."
The forum concluded with a panel of local and federal government officials speaking about how their agencies are working to improve DC's re-entry system.
Nancy M. Ware, director of the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, proposed that employers that have jobs for DC returning citizens call her. "We provide training and get them ready for the workforce," she says.
"The forum was a complete success," remarks CCE executive director June Kress. "The returning citizens' panel set the perfect tone for the program. With our report and the forum, we wanted to showcase the real-life experiences of returning citizens. Not only their challenges, but their resilience, determination, and successes."
Social media confirmed that CCE's Re-entry Forum hit a home run. Thanks to the pro bono services of Spitfire Strategies, and participation of forum attendees, #BSCForum trended in Twitter's DC top 5. Join the conversation on Twitter using #BSCForum.