PEOPLE RETURNING anywhere from incarceration have to contend with many challenges, but the District of Columbia puts an additional obstacle in their way. The system that is supposed to help them with reentry instead sets them up for failure. That is the conclusion of a new report detailing the grim realities of returning D.C. citizens that faults both local and federal officials.
“It does not have to be this way,” says the report, “Beyond Second Chances,” by the Council for Court Excellence, a nonprofit that pushes for improvements in the city’s criminal justice system. Estimating that 1 in 22 adults in the District are under some form of correctional control, the report argues that successfully integrating ex-offenders into the community would benefit not only them but also the public at large.
Overlapping federal and local jurisdictions cause much of the problem. Each level of government has its own its own standards and procedures. Offenders are sent to federal facilities throughout the country, depriving them of contact with family and other needed supports. When they return to the District, they are given insufficient or inadequate support services.
Particular aim is taken at Hope Village, the privately run halfway house in Southeast that is under contract to the federal Bureau of Prisons. About half of the District’s returning citizens spend time in a halfway house at the end of their sentences, and most of those men go to Hope Village. The report faults the facility for shortcomings in security and assisting ex-offenders in critical areas such as helping them find jobs. A Hope Village official told us the findings were “unfair and one-sided,” but this is not the first time the facility — known as Hopeless Village among some of its inhabitants — has come under criticism. Federal officials might want to take to heart the report’s recommendation to look for a new provider with a different model when the contract expires next year. Also faulted for a lack of resources and clear strategy was the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizen Affairs.
The report details programs, locally and across the country, that successfully provide ex-offenders a second chance. As Council for Court Excellence policy analyst Emily Tatro said, “This is a moment when we can really rethink how people are returning from prison and jail.”
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