WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com)–For most of the more than 600,000 men and women who were released from prison last year, transitioning back into the community is a losing battle against drugs, unemployment, homelessness and returning to a life of crime. The nation’s capital is offering their ex-offenders’ weapons to win that war.
The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) Re-entry Program was created to stop the revolving door of recidivism where inmates are released without the proper support and assistance, soon to return to illegal activities that send them right back to jail.
“With this new program, we have a good opportunity to show what we can do,” Paul A. Quander Jr., the first federally appointed director of CSOSA, explained to The Final Call. “We’re excited about this program. These are our brothers and sisters who’ve been incarcerated. No one in this community is immune from crime. We all have a vested interest in this program.”
Justice Department statistics show that, as of Dec. 31, 2001, some 1.96 million people–more people than any other country in the world–were locked up; and those numbers are going up.
The goal of the re-entry program is to reduce crime and enhance public safety through close supervision of offenders, swift and certain responses to violations, appropriate treatment, support services and effective partnerships with the community, the police department and other community agencies.
“It’s hard for offenders to come back to the community. They need all of the support we can give them to be successful. Our aim is to assist them in not committing future crimes,” said Mr. Quander.
Research done by the government showed that most D.C. parolees “lacked the basic skills to successfully negotiate their environment, were unemployed or unemployable, lacked basic literacy skills and had substance abuse problems.
The re-entry program, piloted in 2000, attacks all of those issues with services including drug testing, substance abuse treatment, life skills training, housing assistance, and job training and referral services.
There are three phases to the program–transitional services, enhanced supervision and community reintegration and relapse/recidivism prevention and restitution.
They also receive a mass orientation with the D.C. Police Department. The new releases meet the officers and become acquainted with the people ready, willing and able to arrest them should they cross the line.
“We tell them the hot spots in the city for crime, the drug areas and tell them not to go there,” said Mr. Quander. “If they go in those areas, it’s a violation.”
The program works hard to get the participants rooted in the community with jobs, housing and social connections.
“The more successful our offenders are at feeling a part of something and feeling like they have something to lose, the less likely they are to repeat their crimes,” said Mr. Quander.
“There are so many variables on the street, that it becomes harder for them to live outside of jail than to do time in jail. Some feel that jail is easier. ‘I can do jail’, they say, ‘it’s nothing’. Being on the street and part of the community is difficult.”
Harvey Brown’s been in and out of prison. He would commit a crime, do the time and come home.
“I came out saying, what am I going to do,” he told The Final Call. “I needed some type of guidance coming back from prison, some insight on the things I missed, but it wasn’t there. I didn’t have anybody to say they cared about me.
“So, I got a job but it wasn’t paying anything. I turned back to the streets where I found some love.”
He also found his way back to prison again and again. When he got out recently, he was approached at the halfway house about the re-entry mentor program. Reluctantly, he went to the program and met his mentor, Abubakr Muhammad Karim.
He is the Muslim Affairs Liaison for CSOSA. He understands clearly the needs of ex-offenders. He’s been there and done that.
“When I was released from prison in 1971, there were numerous educational programs for ex-offenders. Tougher laws came with the Reagan administration and the political climate changed so people incarcerated had to just do their time,” he told The Final Call.
“What happened was a disservice to the notion of rehabilitation. There was nothing for these men and women to come home to.”
Mr. Karim got involved with the program because he wanted to help Muslims coming out of jail who were looking for a stronger connection with Islam.
“Statistics show that 15-20 percent of returning offenders are Muslims yet 95 percent of the mentors in the program are Christian. That’s not a bad thing, but we want to have more Muslims involved in helping our brothers and sisters transition,” Mr. Karim said.
As a mentor, Mr. Karim spends quality time with Mr. Brown. “We spend a lot of time just talking about life. I told him he doesn’t have to rush to do things. I gave him a Holy Qur’an, which meant a lot since he was exposed to Islam in prison. Through the mentoring program, we will teach him how to use a computer and help him get job training. We worked on survival skills like anger management and finding housing. I give him the help he needs.”
For Mr. Brown, that help has made the difference in going back to prison and being a model citizen.
“I feel responsible now, like I have some things going on in my life. Right now, I can call Bro. Karim and talk to him about anything. I know he’s there for me. The brothers in the program relate to me like they’ve known me for years, not like I’m some ex-con or just an inmate,” said Mr. Brown.
“There are a lot of brothers coming out of prison who’ve done 15, 20 years and they come back to no family. They don’t have any help, so they turn right back to the streets. This program lets me know that I don’t have to do crime to survive.”
Anthony Muhammad is the Mid-Atlantic regional prison minister for the Nation of Islam. He travels weekly to prisons throughout the metropolitan area to work with the men so they can have a smooth transition home.
“This program is what Minister Farrakhan told us to do in the National Agenda. He said to adopt an inmate and help him learn things when he gets home. We help them fill in the gaps that are there from being away. They come back not knowing about CD players, laptops and cell phones. We help them make the connection and become rooted in the community,” said Min. Muhammad.
The program is changing the lives of men and women all over the city. Before the House of Representatives hearing on the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of the District of Columbia, Mr. Quander testified, “Our supervision activities continue to result in lower rates of parole re-arrest.”
For Mr. Brown, the numbers aren’t as important as the men and women looking for a better way home.
“Without it, people will go right back through the revolving door,” he said.