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D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray unveils plan to help released offenders

By Justin Moyer,

Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced on Wednesday a “reentry initiative” to improve job training, health care and social services for the approximately 2,000 offenders who return to the District every year after their release from prison.

The initiative will be coordinated by the D.C. Office on Returning Citizens Affairs and will feature a resource center at 2100 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE to be run in conjunction with the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and the U.S. Parole Commission. D.C. inmates are housed in the federal prison system. ORCA is the only office in the country with statutory mandates for assisting released offenders.

“We must do everything possible to ensure that every individual seeking an opportunity to turn their lives around after incarceration has a place to come and begin the process,” Gray (D) said in a statement. “This resource center will be a place where returning citizens can learn the skills that will enable them to make a fresh start.”

Gray called the initiative the “cornerstone of reentry strategy” designed to reduce recidivism rates by 20 percent in three years. “People deserve to be served as part of the existing, generic service system,” he said. “Let’s make this part of the inherent work of the government.”

In the District, more than one-third of people on probation, parole or supervised release are re-incarcerated within three years.

About 2,000 D.C. inmates return to the city each year, Gray said. ORCA serves more than 5,000 clients annually, according to the agency’s 2012 annual report.

In the District, released offenders face unemployment rates of around 50 percent. About 25 percent are homeless, according to a 2010 estimate.

Charles Thornton, ORCA’s director, said there was a need for “communication and connectivity” between service providers for returning citizens.

“It’s the best practice, but it’s not being practiced,” Thornton said.

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