By Barrington M. Salmon
As plans to open a community reentry center for formerly incarcerated individuals in Ward 7 move forward, residents, community leaders and elected officials have raised a number of pertinent questions, chiefly centering around what kind of neighbor the new center will be.
Will it be safe? Will it promote economic growth? Will staff and CORE’s principals maintain a continuing dialogue with and be responsive to the community? There are also equally important questions about whether the new reentry center will serve its clients adequately and provide the kind of services its clients will need to become active and productive members of the community.
These are important questions at a time when DC looks to strike a balance between meeting the needs of men seeking a second chance in society, a growing social movement around criminal and social justice, not ignoring the needs of a community seeking to prosper and grow.
In that context, I recently reached out to representatives of CORE DC to understand how they intend to help their clients while contributing to the overall welfare of their neighbors in Ward 7. I asked CORE DC many of the same questions the community is asking and came away believing that the business of providing support to this underserved population does not have to be at odds with the stability and even the longer term growth of the community.
It’s important that stakeholders and others get this right at a time when the nation is engaged in a long-overdue debate over how to achieve social justice, particularly for African-Americans who are too often victims of a criminal justice system that intentionally targets them and which is in desperate need of broad and deep structural reform.
Below is an abridged version of my exchange with CORE DC representatives:
How will you assure us that our neighborhood will be safe and secure?
CORE DC: We work tirelessly to achieve the highest standards of safety and security. This starts with having a trusted team of security officers who are trained to enforce all facility security protocols, 24/7. Our approach works. For example, in New York City, our facility has been lauded in regular reviews by officials from the Federal Bureau of Prisons for the high quality of our community relations, and CORE’s success in “maintaining accountability of the residents.” Simply put, we take our commitment to be a good neighbor in the community very seriously.
When you talk about comprehensive programs, what specifically are you offering the men who will live there that will be different from other providers?
CORE DC: We are offering temporary housing education, job training and transportation services to our fathers, brothers and sons returning home from periods of incarceration. What sets us apart is our proven track record of success. When it comes to providing these services, compassion, experience and expertise matter. We believe that there are no shortcuts to developing comprehensive, effective programs for returning citizens. It’s critical to enlist people who know how to get the job done — people who show up early, stay late and know firsthand what works. We have that team, and we look forward to getting to work.
Why should the community trust you?
CORE DC: We believe trust is earned through results and that is why community engagement and outreach is central to our values-centered model of socially responsible residential reentry centers. Over the past year, CORE DC has met with local residents, elected officials, government agencies, businesses, advocacy organizations, civic groups, religious institutions, and faith leaders. We have hosted numerous informational sessions where we presented key information about our RRC programming, answered questions, and allayed concerns that had largely been the result of rumor and misinformation. We continue to actively foster a robust and productive dialogue with the community.
At CORE DC, we know that the measure of our impact in the community will be the number of lives we transform through compassionate, practical support. We also believe that communities prosper when they take care of those at the margins, expanding the number of people who can participate in and benefit from economic opportunities. As a human services provider, we have a moral obligation, in the communities where we operate, to help maximize the return on this investment.
How important is it for Washington DC to set an example for the nation on reentry issues?
CORE DC: It is critical for DC to seize the opportunity to create a successful model of reentry for other communities throughout the country. It is well-known that Washington, DC often sets the trend in a range of different areas. The fact is that expanding economic horizons for residents while keeping communities stable is an investment for all. We believe that education and job training helps returning citizens become productive members of their families and communities. Studies (including this one, and this one) show that communities that host such services do not see declines in property value or other negative consequences that some fear, provided that the centers are responsibly managed.
These answers CORE DC provided are answers that every DC resident can agree with on paper. Ensuring that CORE DC lives up to these answers will require an ongoing dialogue and partnership between CORE DC, the wider community and the good people of Ward 7.
The representatives of CORE DC say they are committed to doing their part. Ward 7 will have to hold them to their word.