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THE 2019 McSILVER AWARDS

Each year, the McSilver Awards recognizes outstanding individuals who are transforming systems to address the needs of individuals, families, and communities living in poverty, locally and globally. This year’s McSilver Awards were held at the Rosenthal Pavilion, the top floor of the NYU Kimmel Center for University Life.

Returning Citizens Embrace Core DC

District residents are heavily debating the merits of a new halfway house in the city instead of staying with the present facility, and many returning-citizens activists want change.

Core DC wants to locate a new men’s halfway house facility in Ward 5 that would replace Hope Village in Ward 8. In November, the Federal Bureau of Prisons awarded Core DC a contract to open a reentry center in Ward 5 to the chagrin of those in the neighborhood.

Opposing forces mounted a challenge to Core DC’s halfway house victory on Feb. 21, taking the issue to the General Accountability Office of the U.S. Comptroller of the United States.

Core DC CEO Jack Brown wrote in an op-ed in. the Jan. 14, 2019, edition of The Washington Informer about the desire of his organization to operate a safe, neighborhood friendly halfway house in Ward 5.

“Mission-driven, our organization helps former inmates, homeless families, runaway youth and others transform their lives for the better by providing structured, transitional housing and access to critical social and supportive services,” Brown wrote.

Brown said residents of the halfway house will be assisted by case managers and social service coordinators with a comprehensive assessment and develop a reentry plan in addition to being paired with a full-time job placement specialists “who help them secure livable wages and meaningful employment.” He also said halfway house residents will be taught skills such as relationship and financial management.

Brown said he realizes there are critics of his organization.

“Unfortunately, misinformation and falsehoods have circulated and stood in the way of a fruitful dialogue with members of the community who had questions about public safety,” he said. “While I cannot speak to the security conditions at transitional reentry centers operated by other providers, I can proudly assure you that Core works tirelessly to achieve the absolute highest standard of security. In fact, our New York City facility has been lauded in regular reviews by Federal Bureau of Prisons for the high quality of our community relations and Core’s success in maintaining accountability of the residents.”

He said transitional reentry centers bring a socioeconomic benefit to the communities they, serve by facilitating the transition from inmate to stable, wage-earning members of their families and communities. Debra Rowe, the executive director of Returning Citizens United, supports Core DC.

“I have been aware of problems at Hope Village for a long time,” Rowe said. “We label it ‘Hopeless Village’ and we have even talked to [D.C. Del.] Eleanor Holmes Norton about it, but no action has been taken. A returning citizens’ advocate, Courtney Stewart, visited a Core facility in New York and was impressed with what he saw. We also did our research and found that Core DC is the best in terms of running the new men’s facility.”

Rowe said she had heard stories about inmates being treated horribly. She said low morale among the inmates and the lack of professionalism among the staff are pervasive throughout Hope Village.

“It is my understanding that the majority of the staff is female and they don’t know how to relate to the inmates so some of them talk down to them,” Rowe said. “In addition, the inmates have to deal with Hope Village contractors in the areas of mental health and employment and the inmates should have the right to choose with whom they want to deal with.”

Eric Weaver, who serves as the chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Returning Citizens, said he has been in Hope Village and thinks CORE DC has better ideas on how inmates are treated.

“Hope Village needs to upgrade in the areas of its personnel and its programs,” Weaver said. “I like Core DC because they have been transparent in what they want to do and their program, I think, is better than Hope Village’s. Hope Village has a lot of problems it needs to fix.”

The Rev. Graylan S. Hagler, senior pastor at the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, participated in the April 2 broadcast of the “Crossroads” radio show hosted by returning-citizens activist Roach Brown. Hagler said Core DC won the contract “fairly” and “some ol’ boy politics and the ol’ boy system” seek to deny them the contract.

“Hope Village refuses to deal with sex offenders and that is why they lost out,” Hagler said.

Hagler works as a part of an ad hoc group that seeks to make sure Core DC gets its contract. The group includes leading District pastors such as the Rev. William H. Lamar IV of Metropolitan AME Church, the Rev. Frank D. Tucker of the First Baptist Church and the Rev. Marvin Owens of the Michigan Park Christian Church as well as returning citizens advocates Rowe, Ron Moten, Al-Malik Farrakhan and Tyrone Parker of The Alliance of Concerned Men.


Formerly Incarcerated People Face a Tough Journey Home

Try to imagine what freedom must be like for many prisoners who’ve been released after serving sentences of 10, 15 or 20 years behind bars.

Sure, there is the initial sense of elation among some of the men and women about the prospect of a second chance in society. But that elation frequently gives way to frustration, dismay and even fear over how to begin picking up the pieces of their shattered lives.

Indeed, the questions and obstacles they face can be overwhelming. Will they ever find a job, especially if they lack the skills employers need? What about affordable housing? And where will they find money to pay for food and transportation?

Then there are all the societal changes, starting with the disappearance of transit tokens, not to mention the array of other new technologies, including smartphones, social media platforms, video streaming, e-readers, GPS devices and tablets. These technologies are often dizzyingly unfamiliar to individuals who in many cases went to prison at a time when the lowly flip phone was a high technological achievement. And yet being able to use these technologies-from Microsoft Word for a resume to LinkedIn for job searching -is critical.

Thousands of ex-convicts face this reality in communities across the country, from Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta and Miami to Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles. To hear these sort of coming home stories is the first step to understand the daunting journey undertaken by these individuals — often unsuccessfully — to rebuild their lives and re-establish ties to family, friends and community after prison.

With tens of thousands of prisoners being released each year from jails and prisons across the country, experts agree that a major test on the journey home for these individuals is navigating rocky shoals of the transition between prison and society. Will they be productive citizens, or will they engage in a repeat offense and return to prison? Or will they end up homeless in the streets — or worse?

Ex-convicts continue to pay after release

How to help ease the transition for inmates returning home has become part of the growing national debate on reforming the criminal justice system at a time when critics say it has incarcerated a disproportionate number of Black and Hispanic men while focusing on punishment rather than rehabilitation.

That debate is playing out in Washington, D.C.’s predominantly Black Ward 5, where a proposal to open a residential reentry facility for ex-prisoners has provoked a not-in-my-backyard furor. It has also sparked a larger discussion about the need for programs that confront systemic needs of ex-convicts-including providing housing, job training or drug treatment-while helping them work through the psychological issues that returning home can provoke.

At the center of this debate is CORE DC, a minority-owned, social-services group seeking to open a residential reentry center in Ward 5. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on Nov. 1, 2018, awarded CORE DC the contract to open a 300-bed center and the facility was scheduled to start taking in residents on March 1 of this year.

But plans were put on hold amid concerns from some community members. The delay dealt a blow to efforts to address the pressing needs of former inmates returning home with what CORE DC and supporters say is the organization’s humane approach to helping the former prisoners assimilate into a society with obsolete notions of crime and punishment.

“How do you genuinely engage in criminal justice reform when you still have ancient and outdated attitudes?” CORE DC chairman and CEO Jack Brown said. “These are the kind of monsters under the bed that CORE has to deal with. If you have an organization that is providing these services and their reputation is questionable, of course the community should have concerns. But that is not what the community is getting with CORE.”

Lingering concerns about past service providers

The only reentry center in Washington, D.C., today is Hope Village, located in Southeast. Opened in the late 1970s, it has faced criticism in the past on issues ranging from the treatment of residents to its security practices. In a 53-page 2013 memo, the independent agency in charge of monitoring conditions inside of District correctional facilities found that Hope Village lacked “job readiness resources” and substandard care for residents with mental health needs. In 2016, a nonprofit criminal justice advocacy group called the Council for Court Excellence implored the BOP to end its contract with Hope Village.

When Northeast Washington residents got word that a new reentry center would open in Ward 5, some expressed reservations. Chief among their questions was whether CORE DC’s reentry home would be a good neighbor, a concern that seemingly reflected lingering concerns the community had from past experiences.

In fact, just weeks after CORE DC’s Ward 5 project was announced, two former Hope Village residents who had escaped and committed crimes were sentenced to prison, one for a 27-month term and the other for 33 months. The episode seemed to fuel falsehoods and misconceptions about the indispensable role that experts say transitional services such as temporary housing and job training have in ensuring former inmates have the tools needed for a second chance.

As the drip-drip of troubling reports coming out of Southeast Washington cast a dark shadow over a possible new reentry center in Northeast Washington, CORE DC reached out to local lawmakers while the organization’s leadership joined community hearings convened to address questions surrounding the planned facility.

CORE DC says it hoped to provide facts and clarity to the discussion.

“At our facilities, the program director is in daily communication with Bureau of Prisons,” Brown said. “Most people in the community believe you get to hang out from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m at outside of the center, not at CORE. We don’t see too many program failures because our clients have jobs that we work with them to get in the construction industry, technology sector and other livable wage jobs.”

But dialogue has sometimes been elusive — and sometimes heated.

Halfway houses — a loaded term

At one community meeting, a pamphlet was left behind that warned of the grave dangers of “halfway houses,” a term that those in the criminal-justice world say is outdated and filled with a negative connotation. “Halfway houses accept sex offenders, drug offenders, convicted murders and rapists,” the pamphlet read. A group of 12 Northeast residents sued, and on Dec. 21, CORE DC lost its lease on the property.

There is also the fact that Hope Village, which has won more than $125 million in federal contracts since 2006, filed a protest against the BOP contract with CORE DC. The protest, filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), leveled a number of charges, including that Hope Village lost the contract because it refused to take in sex offenders. In a decision made on Feb. 21, the GAO dismissed Hope Village’s highly charged claim, while raising technical questions about CORE DC’s use of the property it proposed for its center.

CORE DC said that it remains committed to the D.C. area.

“We remain committed to reunifying the families and restoring the communities that these individuals leave behind,” Brown said, “But in order to address these complicated issues, the community deserves a productive, fact-driven dialogue, not falsehoods and fear-mongering.”

In recent weeks, CORE Services Group, of which CORE DC is an affiliate, has invited Ward 5 leaders to tour other reentry centers the organization operates. The nonprofit, founded in 2005, has invited local representatives to a reentry center in Brooklyn, New York, where security standards have been lauded in routine reviews by the BOP.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the community will embrace CORE DC as a new neighbor. But with an estimated 8,000 former inmates returning home to Washington every year, advocates say reentry centers are a proven part of the solution, even as they caution that the District, just like communities around the country, need a comprehensive approach.

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Reentry centers play a crucial role in helping ex-inmates — and their communities

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Despite a hot jobs market, Washington and the nation are confronting a quiet employment crisis: legions of formerly incarcerated individuals who have little or no hope of becoming productive members of society because of fears, prejudices and other barriers they face to entering the workforce.

If anyone has doubts about the scale of the problem, consider this: More than 8,000 ex-offenders return hometo Washington annually, at a time when the unemployment rate for formerly incarcerated individuals is estimated by some to be as high as 27 percent nationally.

We all have an interest in providing them the kind of support to enable them to return to the workforce. Without it, they face the possibility of slipping into despair and homelessness — or back in prison. This support includes safe and secure housing as well as vocational training.

This is where socially responsible reentry centers — also called halfway houses, a term loaded with baggage — can make a difference. The mission of reentry centers is to provide job training, housing, transportation and other temporary support for these individuals, a group that is disproportionately made up of black and Hispanic men. The centers also provide strict rules, constant monitoring and compassionate counseling on deeply personal issues.

The centers also help these men with the challenge of readjusting to a world that has changed dramatically since they were sent to prison years earlier. Consider that a man released after serving 20 years in prison may never have used a personal computer or seen a smartphone and be bewildered by smart TVs, Metro cards and parking meters that issue receipts. It is not surprising, then, that roughly 43 percent of District residents who are on parole, probation or supervised release are unemployed.

Policymakers ought to take a hard look at what some — though not all — reentry centers have been quietly doing to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the formerly imprisoned, their families and communities.

I draw from years of experience as the president of CORE Services Group, a human services and community development organization. Our organization operates residential reentry centers that specialize in providing housing and targeted skills training. In addition, we work with our clients to help them develop a sense of self-worth.

Even though reentry centers are a pathway to successful transitions, discussions about their role too often become mired in rumor and falsehood. Not because people are narrow-minded and callous. Rather, the issues are complex and easily confused or distorted. Fear takes hold, and misimpressions become truth. At least this has been my experience.

Regrettably, this dynamic is playing out to some degree in Ward 5 in Northeast Washington, where CORE’s proposal to open a transitional reentry center has stalled after community concerns were raised. In November 2018, CORE was awarded a Federal Bureau of Prisons contract to open a reentry center in Ward 5, but the project is now in jeopardy. Good people — well-meaning people — are upset. Perhaps shedding a little light on this subject will help allay some of the concerns.

Let’s start here. As I said, the men (only about 7 percent of federal inmates are women) coming out of prison and into reentry centers are largely black and Hispanic. Though they have been relegated to society’s margins, they are not strangers: They are our sons, brothers and fathers. The job of reentry centers is literally to welcome them home.

The CORE curriculum has been tested and refined over two decades. Upon arrival, residents complete a comprehensive assessment. Based on the results, they are paired with case managers and social services coordinators who guide development of an individualized reentry plan. Residents enroll in workshops ranging from résumé-writing and interviewing skills to how to knot a tie and use the Internet. When they are ready, residents work closely with full-time job-placement specialists who help them secure meaningful employment at local businesses.

Study after study has demonstrated that just two factors — safe and secure housing, and living-wage employment — predict long-term success for previously incarcerated individuals.

To best serve its residents, the District needs a comprehensive approach capable of providing these men the vocational skills they need, open access to a broad array of health-care services, and supports to reunify families and address other challenges.

Until we do this, our neighborhoods will be disrupted by high levels of recidivism and cycles of crime and punishment and broken families. This is the inevitable result of a society that fails to temper justice with mercy and common sense.

BROWN: Helping Former Inmates Transition to Life Outside Prison is Key to Criminal Justice Reform

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The recent unease in northeast Washington, D.C., around a proposed transitional reentry center for formerly incarcerated individuals has raised understandable questions about the societal role of such transitional centers. While the project is now stalled, concerns voiced by some Ward 5 residents deserve to be addressed — especially because D.C. is well-positioned to lead the nation’s efforts to grapple with an array of criminal justice challenges.

To be sure, a single program cannot on its own solve problems that have been generations in the making, including high recidivism rates, the spiraling costs of corrections programs, overcrowded prisons, mass incarcerations and criminal-justice policies that disproportionately punish Black and Hispanic men andseparate them from their families and communities. But ignoring the problem — or looking for others to solve it — will most certainly not improve things.

Jack Brown
CORE CEO Jack Brown

I have a responsibility, both personal and professional, to clearly explain what reentry centers — like the one at the center of this debate — are all about. I am the chief executive officer of CORE, the organization that proposed the center in northeast Washington. Mission-driven, our organization helps former inmates, homeless families, runaway youth and others transform their lives for the better by providing structured, transitional housing and access to critical social and supportive services.

For more than 20 years, CORE’s senior leadership has been empowering its clients, many of them men, face the daunting task of returning to their communities. These men — who are fathers, brothers and sons — require assistance to reenter the workforce, establish independence, reunite with family and regain their self-respect. With the help of case managers and social services coordinators, our residents participate in a comprehensive assessment and develop a reentry plan. Residents are also paired with full-time job placement specialists who help them secure livable wages and meaningful employment.

Our life and transitional skills coaches work with residents to adjust to many of the significant changes their communities — and society as a whole — have undergone during their incarceration. The challenges these men confront include having to adapt to new societal and cultural norms, as well as needing to learn new technologies and getting around communities that may no longer seem familiar.

Guided by our belief that employment and permanent housing are the twin keys to long-term success and preventing recidivism, we offer workshops ranging from resume-writing and interviewing skills to how to knot a tie and use the Internet.

This round-the-clock support helps clients make significant strides. Through it, clients pick up tools for managing everything from personal relationships to their finances.

Our commitment to values-centered support is backed by our lengthy experience. And it can have a truly extraordinary impact, such as when an estranged father reunites with his children.

Despite CORE’s track record of achieving such outcomes for former inmates, we know that some Ward 5 residents have asked what a reentry center would mean for them and their neighborhood.

Unfortunately, misinformation and falsehoods have circulated and stood in the way of a fruitful dialogue with members of the community who had questions about public safety.

While I cannot speak to the security conditions at transitional reentry centers operated by other providers, I can proudly assure you that CORE works tirelessly to achieve the absolute highest standards of security. In fact, our New York City facility has been lauded in regular reviews by Federal Bureau of Prisons for the high quality of our community relations and CORE’s success in “maintaining accountability of the residents.”

CORE also appreciates the need to provide transportation assistance to our clients. This is a vital component of our services. In Washington, CORE vans will ferry residents back and forth from Metro stops. 

Simply put, we take our commitment to be a good neighbor very seriously. CORE identified northeast Washington as an appropriate location for one of our programs for several reasons, including that many of the individuals who would be housed there are from the D.C. region. They deserve the opportunity to return home with support and dignity.

We believe that Ward 5 has the opportunity to set a powerful example of community corrections done right, curbing recidivism by combining CORE’s rigorous yet compassionate transitional support initiatives.

Finally, transitional reentry centers bring a socioeconomic benefit to the communities they serve, by facilitating the transition from inmate to stable, wage-earning members of their families and communities.

CORE welcomes the opportunity to continue this critically important conversation with the people of Ward 5.

Jack Brown is chief executive officer of CORE Services Group.

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We Participated in Sending 160 Girls to See a “Wrinkle In Time”

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Believe Women and PopLife ENT presents a free screening of the theatrical release of “A Wrinkle In Time” for 100 female students from 4 Brooklyn, NY schools: PS 9 (Prospect Heights), PS 384 (Bushwick), IS 392 (Brownsville), East NY Middle  School of Excellence (East New York). Welcome speech and film introduction provided by Cori Murray, Entertainment Director, ESSENCE and Co-Host, Yes, Girl! Podcast.

Additional sponsorship is provided by CORE Services Group, compliments of CEO, Jack Brown III, whose mission lies in advancing community programs. Presenters, Believe Women and PopLife know the positive impact that experiences like these have on the youth saying “It is crucial to provide opportunities to our
young girls, to view positive images and an uplifting story that can provide a feeling of empowerment and pride in themselves.”

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Going Home: A ThriveNYC Story

In November 2015, First Lady Chirlane McCray rolled out ThriveNYC, an action plan to change the way we think about mental health and the way we deliver services, to address the challenges with the current mental health system and to bring more services, better services, and services that are easier to access to the highest need areas around the City. DHS and ThriveNYC have launched an initiative to place Licensed Masters’-level Social Workers (LMSWs) in shelters serving Families with Children as a part of ThriveNYC. CORE partnered with the Department of Homeless Services to profile the work of CORE’s Client Care Coordinator at the MacDonough Family Residence shelter. “

It has been my pleasure to be a part of this in representation of CORE Services Group.” – Melissa Koppenhafer, LMSW, Client Care Coordinator

Judicial Delegation from Abu Dhabi

On February 10, 2017, CORE Services Group hosted a Judicial Delegation from Abu Dhabi including His Excellency Chancellor Yousef Alebri, Undersecretary of Abu Dhabi’s Judicial Department, His Excellency Chancellor Ali Mohammed Albelooshi Attorney General of Abu Dhabi, His Excellency Chancellor Ali Aldhaheri , Director of the Judicial Inspection Division, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, and Dr. Salah Aljunaibi, and Director of Communication and International Cooperation, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.

 

 

Women’s March

On Saturday, January 21, the voices of women around the nation were heard. CORE women let their voices be heard and came together to support human, social and economic justice for all in poster making session.

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