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Criminal Justice in DC - The Examiner

Friday, July 12, 2013

Criminal Justice in DC - The Examiner

The Mayor's Office of Returning Citizen Affairs has an open door policy for all who wish to make a smoother transition from incarceration to society

Reginald Johnson, Examiner

Criminal justice has become more of a polarizing issue between Republicans and Democrats, although the issue itself shows no favorites to either once a judge or jury gives a prison sentence. There has been no one program, or political party, that has the answer at keeping people out of prison.

It is estimated that about 700,000 men and women are released from America's prisons annually, and a little more than half will be reincarcerated within the following three years.

Of that 700,000, an estimated 2 to 3000 return home to the District of Columbia. Making the transition back into an open society can be a difficult one, but there are several organizations many can turn to for assistance. One of these is the mayor's Office of Returning Citizen Affairs (ORCA).

Being that no organization has created the solution to completely staying out of prison, the question becomes: what is unique about work in reference to other organizations that battle recidivism?

Charles Thornton, director of the agency, stated, "ORCA is the only legislatively mandated reintegration agency in the country. As the single state agency responsible for reintegration, we are able to pursue our mission and goals at the highest level of government in the District of Columbia. A look at other reentry organizations across the country has revealed that ORCA is one of if not the only reentry organization headed up by previously incarcerated individuals."

ORCA's clients are generally men and women whom most people in society feel are headed back to prison so they pay very little attention to their needs, but not those at ORCA. ORCA works tirelessly at connecting people to jobs, further educational desires, housing, and mental health needs.

And that's one of the primary things that Thornton touts as a success within his agency.

"Client/staff interface allows work to focus on the re-socialization processes from a community reintegration perspective as opposed to a correction or supervision model," he said.

What some of ORCA's clients may not know, and people in the community as well, is that ORCA works at re-integrating men and women back into D.C. society. They do not has anything to do with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), halfway houses, or supervision.

Director Thornton stressed this. "The BOP handles prisons and CSOSA (Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency) handles supervision," he said. "We make sure that men and women can properly be assessed and put on right road with connecting them to their needs."

There are ways to stay out of prison. Below are a few:

Stable employment is one way, but generally returning from prison can expect to make 40 percent less than those that don't go to prison at all, according to a 2010 Pew report. Much of that is due to the number of businesses who are a bit leery at taking on an employee with a criminal background.

Montgomery County resident "Tim" (he didn't want his real name used) says that it is hard to try to reestablish your self if businesses won't give you a chance.

"I've been back from federal prison for almost a year now," he said, "and I've had a very difficult time trying to get employed. I've told the truth about my background; but even that isn't enough."

Tim added that he is being pressured by his probation officer to find stable employment and said that he has told him that he is looking as hard as he can.

"This can't go on forever," Tim said.

Returning citizen Jennifer Gomez said, "The best way D.C. can help us is by having government officials and businesses publicly support ORCA and their interest in getting everyone who comes through their doors employed."