Family and Friends of Incarcerated People’s Annual Community Event!

It’s that time of year again, folks! Family and Friends of Incarcerated People is holding their annual community event.  Join us, this Saturday, August 20, 2016 at Oxon Run Park, 1st and S. Capital Streets SE.  The fun starts at 1:00 PM.

FFOIP Community Fest 2016_Fun

D.C. Council Passes Entrepreneurship Program for Returning Citizens… But It’s Not Funded

According to the Department of Employment Services, just five years ago, the unemployment rate in Ward 7 hovered around 19 percent.  In Ward 8, it was routinely more than 20 percent.  Today, the rates are 9.5 percent and 11.3 percent respectively.   Ward 5, another area with stubbornly high unemployment has almost matched the overall unemployment rate in the District at 6.4 percent.  This is all very good news.  The bad news is that these decreases don’t seem to be reaching the District’s returning citizens.

Approximately 67,000 individuals with a prior conviction reside in the District of Columbia, that’s 10 percent of the population. (1)    According to the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) the percentage of unemployed among the offender population in the District for Black Non-Hispanic segment of the population was 64 percent in 2014.

The same scarcity of educational and training opportunities that put many at risk for criminal behavior remains unchanged during and after prison.  Seventy-seven percent of D.C. offenders who return from prison received no employment assistance while incarcerated, and only one-third of those stated that assistance was available to them post release. (2)

It is no wonder that returning citizens who want to provide for their families are challenged to do so. This remains true even for those who are more motivated than those in the workforce without criminal records.

The DC Reentry Task Force (DCRTF) is a reentry advocacy group of entrepreneurs, academia, reentry professionals and returning citizens.  We understand the need for innovation in the development of 21st century solutions to address the barriers faced by the formerly incarcerated as they seek to re-establish themselves back into society.  Which is why we’ve worked to take a lead in the discussion in supporting Bill 21-463, the Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program (IIEP) Act of 2015. (3)

On June 23, 2016, the Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs committee voted unanimously to move the bill forward to a full council vote on June 28, 2016.  The downside, though, is that the bill was passed and moved forward subject to appropriation. (4)  In voicing their support at the mark-up for the legislation, Councilmember Elissa Silverman noted that she “Really thinks this is a creative approach.”  She continued by saying, “This is a bill that’ll take a first step toward looking at how we address entrepreneurship issue.”  Brandon Todd echoed her sentiments that, “This bill is yet another step towards helping this population attain jobs and self-sufficiency. “

While Councilmember Charles Allen praised the bill saying, “Returning citizen’s best chance at employment and a successful future … is by turning to the ability to being an entrepreneur to start their own business,” he also had his reservations.  “One piece that gives me anxiety,” he said, “is just that it’s not currently funded.”

At the first reading of the bill on June 28, Councilmember David Grosso echoed Allen’s concerns “On bills that we [Council] move forward in the past that are subject to appropriation it is rather rare that they ever get funded.” He further stated, “We put programs in place that will not become effective for over an entire year.”

On the other hand, Councilmember Orange said “We’re hopeful the Mayor will send down this bill as part of her budget (in FY2018) and that it would be in fact approved.”

Councilmember Grosso’s point about bills subject to appropriation not being funded is a valid one.  Dating back to 2001, the council has approved 42 legislative measures that have not funded to date, and six (6) partially funded.

It is apparent that little or no effort was put forth by the BCRA committee to get the Executive to include Bill 21-463 in her FY2017 budget.  The main objective for all returning citizens and their supporters should be to get the bill funded during the FY2018 budget cycle, and correct any other language issues that could render parts of the bill subject to legal challenges in the future. Also, to ensure that the Department of Small and Local Business Development be clarified as the lead agency, and DOES act in support of this important effort.  We hope to get amendments to change the legislation accordingly in the near future.  Passage of the bill clearly shows that the council views entrepreneurship for the returning citizens as a viable economic development strategy. The DCRTF believes the full council supports proper funding for the bill, which will effectuate real change in the lives of our returning citizens and their families.

Sources

1.  Data Needs Assessment for the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizen Affairs
http://orca.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/orca/publication/attachments/GW%20Report%20%281%29.pdf

2.  Council for Court Excellence’s report Unlocking Employment Opportunity for Previously Incarcerated Persons in the District of Columbia
http://www.courtexcellence.org/uploads/publications/CCE_Reentry.pdf

3. Legislative Summary and Bill History
http://lims.dccouncil.us/Legislation/B21-0463?FromSearchResults=true

4. Fiscal Impact Statement http://app.cfo.dc.gov/services/fiscal_impact/pdf/spring09/FIS%20B21-463%20DC%20Incarceration%20to%20Incorporation%20Entrepreneurship%20Program%20Act%20of%202016.pdf

There Are Jobs Available for Returning Citizens in the District of Columbia

By Dave Oberting

By Dave Oberting

Considering all the barriers a returning citizen faces when they make it home from incarceration, from not having an I.D. or a birth certificate to having no place to live or limited computer skills, it’s no real surprise the unemployment rate for the 50-60,000 returning citizens who live in DC is estimated to be about 50%.

What may come as a surprise is just how much income returning citizens are losing out on and how it hurts our economy. According to George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, because the unemployment rate for the District’s returning citizens is 50% and not a more normal rate like 10%, the District’s returning citizens lose out on over $915 million in wages annually. You can see the math here: http://egdcfoundation.org/the-wages-returning-citizens-lose-out-on-due-to-high-unemployment/

That’s almost a billion dollars that’s not flowing into the economy and generating economic activity or tax revenue. Before you even get into the moral imperative of finding a job for someone who’s paid their debt to society, losing out on $1 billion in income and $200 million in tax revenue is bad economics that hurts every DC resident.

Another thing that may surprise you is there are many jobs available for returning citizens in the District. Up until now, we’ve done a deplorable job of connecting those residents to these opportunities. According to the website snagajob.com, there are 22,328 hourly wage jobs available today in the District of Columbia.

A lot of these positions — everything from associate at Potbelly Sandwich Shop to furniture mover for a company called MakeSpace – require little or no training and experience, and are open to candidates returning from incarceration.

While a lot of these jobs are low skill/low wage, they all provide the two things a returning citizen needs most: work experience and some money in their pocket. It’s society’s job to make sure returning citizens get the education and training required to move to higher paying work, but the critical task for avoiding recidivism today is getting them into a job quickly.

How do we make those connections? My charitable foundation has launched a program that brings together a team of job placement professionals that do nothing but connect returning citizens to good jobs as fast as is humanly possible. They do this by using years of placement industry experience and expertise to build working relationship with District employers that are willing and able to offer District residents who’ve paid their debt  a second chance.

It’s a program that makes sense for our foundation and the community because I spent twenty years in the job placement business prior to starting our foundation. I’m not qualified to do much, but I am supremely qualified to connect DC residents to employment. You can learn more about it here: http://egdcfoundation.org/ex-offender-job-placement-project/. Once we are fully-funded, we’ll place about 1,500 returning citizens into employment every year. We’ll always shoot for full-time positions with benefits that pay a living wage, but we won’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

A full-time job is the best tool for fighting recidivism there is. The District needs a system to better assist returning citizens in quickly connecting to real, viable employment. In partnership with District government initiatives like Project Empowerment and the Office of Returning Citizen’s Affairs, this program will connect large numbers of returning citizens to meaningful employment.

Dave Oberting is the executive director of the Economic Growth DC Foundation. He can be reached at dave.oberting@egdcfoundation.org.

 

Employment and Entrepreneurship for Returning Citizens

Clean-Decisions-Team-Photo-1024x576

Staff of Clean Decisions, a company providing employment opportunities for Returning Citizens

I came across two stories on the Facebook feed about companies in the District that make a point of hiring Returning Citizens.   This interests me because most of the folks who come into the Potomac Gardens Community Resource Center to use the computer lab to search for jobs and/or create a résumé also have criminal records.  Regardless of how old the offense or how ridiculous the charge most employers don’t give them a second look.  One woman, we’ll call her “Helen,” is still haunted by an assault charge.   Sounds bad right?  What happened was that she got into a fist-fight with a neighbor that resulted in some scratches and bruises.  The yelling was enough to get the police called and both of them arrested.  That was twenty years ago.   “Helen” was asked about her record during the interview for the part-time cafeteria position which she’s held for the last fifteen years.  Obviously, they gave her the job despite her scrap with the neighbor.   But she’s been looking for a second part-time job on and off for the last decade and can’t get to the interview stage.   She thinks it’s the felony charge.  Frankly, so do I.

The passage of the Ban the Box Bill in the District of Columbia last year should have made it easier for Returning Citizens and even those like “Helen” who didn’t go to prison to get an interview.  Employers aren’t allowed to ask about an applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment has been made.   Of course, there’s nothing to stop potential employers from conducting background checks on their own at any point during the hiring process.  So, finding employers who are willing to hire residents who have records is crucial.

The following is a report by WUSA9 about the Courtyard Marriott Convention Center hotel in downtown D.C.

Another story Cleaning Up Their Act: A Clean Break for Ex-Cons about Clean Decisions, a company that helps violent ex-offenders find temporary jobs, allowing them to gain experience and build their resumes.  These stories are great but two employers willing to hire Returning Citizens is hardly enough to make a dent in the problem.  According to Anne Clark writing for NextCity.org :

The nation’s prison system grew by 400 percent after 1980, but with overcrowding and depleted budgets, more and more people are being released, mostly to urban cores. About 700,000 people — more than the entire population of D.C. — come home from prisons across the country every year. They face debilitating challenges in securing housing, jobs and transit, all of which contributes to recidivism and the most ubiquitous of urban challenges: crime and homelessness.

Between 2008 and 2014, the number of D.C. residents in prison dropped by 41 percent, with about 8,000 people returning home each year. About half of them will be back behind bars within three years, according to Thornton. Altogether, around 70,000 D.C. residents have criminal records. That’s nearly 10 percent of the total population.

Clearly, the few employers willing to hire Returning Citizens is not enough.  Another approach is the Returning Citizens Business Development Program Act of 2015 which would establish a business development program within the Office On Returning Citizens Affairs that would assist in funding businesses owned, operated, or managed by returning citizens.  The bill is sponsored by At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange.  I came across it in researching this article, but don’t see any stories by the mainstream press or any action in support of the legislation by advocates or activists.  Perhaps the bill will pick up steam in the coming months.

Does the District Need More Police Or More Resources?

Mayor Bowser has a plan to address D.C.’s rise in crime. It involves more police and greater police powers. Your experience with the police may suggest that this might not be the best way to go. Let the mayor and the city council know how you feel about this issue.  Tell your story on videotape at the below locations today and tomorrow!!!

Resources Not Reinforement