By BARRINGTON SALMON
Advocates, faith leaders and members of the community in Washington, D.C. have long called for the nation’s capital to build a more compassionate, holistic and effective model for providing social services to the men, women and young people transitioning back into society after incarceration.
Yet, despite a shared goal of providing better support to individuals making that daunting transition, the thorny question of how, exactly, to move forward has been the subject of much debate and sometimes, rancorous disagreements over the particulars. This has clouded the considerable consensus that something must be done and, as a result, stalled whatever progress was made.
In 2018, the Federal Bureau of Prisons awarded a contract to a nonprofit organization to replace the city’s incumbent reentry provider, Hope Village, and manage a new program at an existing location in Northeast Washington. But some in the neighborhood resisted the idea of such a facility in their backyard, prompting the owner of the building to abruptly back out of the deal, leaving the city back at square one.
Now, after the BOP tapped the same organization – CORE D.C. – in June to start up a new reentry center in Ward 7, the city once again finds itself at a critical moment. As an unflinching advocate for real criminal justice reform, I am determined to do all I can to help the community come together to bring about real change on this issue.
I have long followed efforts aimed at reforming D.C.’s criminal justice system, and have spent many years giving voice to returning citizens, their families and the varied challenges they face. Often those of us in the wider community forget that we’re dealing with our brothers and sisters, human beings who made a mistake but paid their debt to society. Unfortunately, the stigma of their incarceration follows them and they’re often not afforded the opportunity to get a second chance. I articulated the need for the District of Columbia to move on from Hope Village if it was really committed to assisting returning citizens and providing them with the crucial support and range of services they need.
Today I launched a new website calling on D.C. to support plans for a new reentry center in Ward 7. The website will also focus on other criminal justice issues. I did this because it is imperative that we not let this process suffer the same fate it did last year. Especially now that Hope Village has closed and there is not a single facility able to provide services to citizens returning to the community. Having no place for returning citizens to go for a safe place to sleep, to readjust to being in the community and get job training is not an option.
We should also take advantage of the profound social changes sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in late May. It’s clear that we are at an inflection point in our nation’s history. Americans appear to finally be ready to confront the reality of the insidiousness of racism and its corrosive effects on all of us. Young people have taken the reins, eschewed asking for permission and are driving this movement forward. They are determined to hold their parents, adults, elected officials, the police and others in authority to account.
Our nation is grappling with a racial and moral reckoning that if successful, will change the way we look at the criminal justice system and those entangled in it. Americans are trying to figure out how to navigate the treacherous but long overdue discourse about social and racial justice, inequities, disparities and privilege and what our country will look like going forward.
The District of Columbia has a unique opportunity at this moment to take one seemingly small but important step in the right direction and set an example for other communities looking to take similar steps of their own.
We came together as a community to demand better services for those returning home from incarceration, and our efforts paid off. Hope Village – which became known as Hopeless Village in D.C. – is receding into our rearview mirror. Now, with a bold plan in place to provide services that will give returning citizens the support they need to transform their lives, we have an opportunity to demonstrate what real change looks like.
There is still a great deal of work to be done, and one reentry center alone will not nearly be enough to bring down recidivism rates that are still far too high, but the city’s plan for a new facility in Ward 7 is progress – not just progress on paper – and we should support it.