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AALI: Disparities in the community, bridging the gaps

DENISHA McKNIGHT | 10/31/2016, 5:49 p.m.
Through the use of the World Wide Web, African Americans have been having a broader national conversation about the issues ...
Dallas marcher holds a sign questioning the treatment of Blacks during a rally of solidarity against police brutality. Diane Xavier

The Dallas Examiner

Through the use of the World Wide Web, African Americans have been having a broader national conversation about the issues that affect the Black community at a disproportionate rate – economically, legally, socially, politically, educationally, medically, etc. The African American Leadership Institute, launched in June, held a Fall Summit to address those disparities and how to help bridge those gaps.

The summit, held Sept. 10 at Paul Quinn College, included a variety of panel discussions to focus on education, criminal justice, economic development and health.

Crime and recidivism

Criminal justice reform and mass incarceration has been a huge concern in the Black community, and little has been done to resolve the issue. Among all ex-offenders, about 2/3 will return back to prison.

During Ex-Offender Re-Entry Programs: Redemption, not Recidivism – a panel discussion titled held during the African American Leadership Institute’s Fall Summit – judges, community leaders and labor force members explored the difficulties within ex-offenders’ re-entry into society.

One of the main components that greatly affects re-entry and recidivism is job opportunity. Employment can prove to be a difficult task that may require help from multiple sources.

Mark York, secretary-treasurer for Texas AFL-CIO, said his organization is partnering with the local court system and workforce development board to help ex-offenders get jobs, acquire skills, GEDs, skill set assessments, and provide babysitters for ex-offenders with children to help provide a pathway out of potential poverty.

From the court perspective, judges help issue orders and provide resources to ex-offenders to help them obtain job opportunities, housing opportunities and job interview preparations.

“I don’t care what stage you’re in, everyone needs to have a job,” said Judge Dominique Collins. “The jobs are out there. The answer is only ‘no’ because you haven’t asked the right person yet.”

While the court system and labor force tackle recidivism from an individual standpoint, community leaders attack recidivism at a different angle. Most ex-offenders not only have to care for themselves but their children, wives, mothers and other family members.

“It’s not about the individual,” said James Reed, Dallas Leadership Foundation member and pastor. “It’s about the family.”

Support services are needed to help navigate and desensitize former fugitives from the environment they once lived in until now, he explained. However, policies also have to be changed in order for ex-offenders to obtain certain things that aren’t easy for them get, such as identification cards and homes.

Policies like “Ban the Box,” an initiative to eliminate the check box on job applications inquiring of past criminal offenses and delaying the question until the end of the interview process instead of asking at the beginning, was examined by the panelists. State Rep. Eric Johnson, who was also in attendance, said he filed the bill, and it’s currently being stalled by the Senate.

Until the law is passed, offenders are still facing difficulties from employers and housing representatives who refuse to overlook past non-violent criminal histories.

“If you can let bad credit fall off from somebody’s record after seven years, perhaps we can take off these [non-violent] criminal histories, and as long as it is not relevant to the job you are applying for, can we not let those [offenses] fall off your criminal history,” said Judge Tammy Kemp.