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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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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.



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