Beyond Second Chances: Returning Citizens’ Re-entry Struggles and Successes in the District of Columbia

Below is an excerpt from the “Beyond Second Chances” report, originally posted by Council for Court Excellence here.

Beyond Second ChancesD.C. citizens returning to their communities from prison face an “incredibly complex” path to re-entry, according to a new report from the Council for Court Excellence (CCE).

Through a review of previously unreleased data and a series of in-depth interviews with returning citizens and service providers, this report, Beyond Second Chances: Returning Citizens’ Re-entry Struggles and Successes in the District of Columbia, provides the most complete picture to date of the challenges that returning citizens face in D.C. and offers recommendations to help them succeed when reintegrating into their communities.

“In a city where 1 in 22 adults is under some form of correctional control on any given day, easing the path home will benefit thousands of D.C. residents, their families, and the entire city by helping returning citizens move beyond second chances to fulfill their potential,” said June Kress, CCE executive director.

According to the report, D.C.’s returning citizens face a variety of challenges, including:

  • Different standards and procedures among various D.C. and federal criminal justice agencies.
  • Isolation from necessary local support systems due to being held in federal prisons around the country, sometimes as far away as the West Coast.
  • Lack of access to stable and affordable housing, health care, and child care.
  • Unemployment and lack of training or education for jobs in D.C.
  • Poorly managed halfway houses for returning citizens.
  • Few services designed for specific populations, including women, youth, and LGBTQ people.

Click here to read the Executive Summary.

Click here to read the full report.

Working to end discrimination against DC’s returning citizens

Today, the City Council considers legislation that could change the lives of many of our clients. Introduced by Tommy Wells, the Fair Criminal Records Screening Act will give returning citizens a chance at jobs which they are often never considered for. Currently, the bill prohibits employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record until after an initial interview. However, advocates are fighting for a stronger bill that would:

  • Protect against an employer discriminating on the basis of arrests that do not result in convictions
  • Prohibit employers from looking at an applicant’s criminal background before making a conditional offer of employment
  • Require employers to provide a “legitimate business reason” should they choose not to hire someone because of their criminal record
  • Give employees a private right of action in limited circumstances

wilson bldg ajatAs it is currently written, the Fair Criminal Records Screening Act of 2014 is a great first step toward comprehensive policy that prevents discrimination against the men and women in this city who have criminal histories. We must now do more to ensure that this legislation is actually able to help the people it is meant to help.

You may ask why Bread for the City is interested in this bill. It’s because, in our Southeast Center, we see firsthand the result of employer policies that automatically disqualify Returning Citizens. According to a report by the Urban Institute, for every 1,000 residents East of the River, there are roughly 33 parolees — the largest percentage in the city. On average, 8,000 fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, husbands and friends return from DC Jail or prison each year. Ward 8 has the largest percentage of the city’s returning citizens, and in 2011, Ward 8 also had the highest rate of unemployment in the entire country.

Studies also show that stable employment reduces the rate of recidivism. And while initiatives like Project Empowerment and Bread for the City’s own Pre-Employment Program (PEP) are so important in helping returning citizens write resumes and prepare for interviews, the challenge for many of the participants has been that they never get an opportunity to use their skills — not because they are unprepared or unqualified, but because many employers won’t even grant an interview to someone with a criminal record.

We cannot continue to tell 8,000 residents each year that, even though they have paid their debt with years of their life, that it’s not enough and that they don’t deserve a fair chance in this city. Take James White, one of the clients who testified at a recent Fair Criminal Records Screening Act hearing. James is a PEP graduate and a former intern in Bread’s Clothing Room. He is a hard worker who pushes himself beyond his comfort zone. He is never late, he doesn’t complain, and he shows up to work hard, rain or shine. And yet, he has been discriminated against by people who didn’t even take the chance to get to know him, because of a box and their preconceived notions about what it means to have a record. He made sure to get to the Council to testify at the hearing because this issue affects his life.

Bread for the City’s Community Lawyering Project has been working hard with a coalition of advocates who understand the importance of getting our returning citizens back to work. We’re thrilled that the bill has made it this far but we need to ensure that it’s legislation that makes a meaningful difference.

Will you stand with workers today? Call the Council and tell them to vote YES to the Ban the Box amendments that strengthen the Bill!

Mendelson (Chair) — 724-8032

Orange (At-Large) — 724-8174                          Graham (1) — 724-8181                     McDuffie (5) — 724-8028

Bonds (At-Large) — 724-8064                            Evans (2) — 724-8058                        Wells (6) — 724-8072

Grosso (At-Large) — 724-8105                           Cheh (3) — 724-8062                          Alexander (7) — 724-8068

               Catania (At-Large) — 724-7772                         Bowser (4) — 724-8052                      Barry (8) — 724-8045

*Aja’s work is made possible in part through private funds awarded by the DC Bar Foundation