Last month, the Council for Court Excellence published sobering statistics in its report, “Unlocking Employment Opportunity for Previously Incarcerated Persons in the District of Columbia.”

The council found that the unemployment rate for ex-offenders in Washington, D.C., is as high as 46 percent. According to the report, 8,000 individuals were released from prison or jail into the District last year, and it is anticipated that about 4,000 of these individuals will re-offend, finding themselves back behind bars in the next three years.

The implications of these findings are grim. Yet, research consistently supports a positive relationship between employment and a reduction in recidivism.

In a meta-analysis of 400 studies between 1950 and 1990, employment was the most important factor in reducing recidivism rates. Further, there are several opportunities for ex-offenders right here in our city.

There are several basic-skill level jobs that are in high demand in D.C., as well as more skilled jobs that ex-offenders could perform with additional training. Software engineers, business analysts and administrative assistants are among the fasting growing career fields in our area and all can be performed by ex-offenders.

The disconnect between these employment opportunities and ex-offenders is their access to job training and the willingness of D.C. residents to mentor these men and women.

Most D.C. residents are unaware that the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Prisons houses all D.C. felons sentenced to confinement pursuant to the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Act of 1997.

Unfortunately, the Council found that 77 percent of D.C.’s offenders returning from prison received no employment assistance while incarcerated, and only one-third of those surveyed stated that assistance was available to them post-release.

While D.C. offenders can earn a GED in prison, they need the availability of higher education and job training if they are to going to succeed in today’s jobs market.

The Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the U.S. Parole Commission and the Bureau of Prisons should routinely analyze employment trends and job forecasts in the D.C. area, and then develop educational and job training programs.

Making these programs widely available to offenders and ex-offenders will help reintegrate inmates into the D.C. community, providing them with an alternative to crime.

Then we, the residents of the District, need to volunteer our time to mentor these ex-offenders. We can critique their resume, advise them on their presentation to prospective employers and then discuss post- interview strategies. Many of these men and women have never had this type of assistance.

In the Council’s report, an ex-offender is quoted saying: “After getting out and returning to D.C., I applied for lots of jobs and volunteered my time and expertise with local churches and non-profits.

“I now have found my calling as a full-time peer advocate for previously incarcerated persons and to advocate for those needing a hand-up and not a hand-out. Previously incarcerated persons can live productive lives when given the support and the services to do so.”

Ex-offenders in the District aspire to change their life. Now they need job training and our commitment to help stop the cycle of recidivism.

District of Columbia resident Joseph Summerill is general counsel for the Major County Sheriff Association and a volunteer for the Safe Streets Arts Foundation.

Source: District residents must get serious about recidivism


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