A little more than two miles from the Department of Labor headquarters is a little-known entity tasked with a very big job—keeping the nation’s capital safe by helping formerly incarcerated persons turn their lives around.
The Re-Entry and Sanctions Center is run by a federal agency known as the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA). It’s housed in historic Karrick Hall—a building that was home to Washington D.C.’s first and only public hospital for nearly two centuries.
Today, it’s a residential facility that helps high-risk offenders and defendants get the counseling, support and tools they need for a productive reintegration into society.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to tour the facility and speak with many of the residents. Afterward, I sat down with 50 community activists, employers and faith leaders to discuss solutions for putting these returning citizens back to work.
People who’ve made a wrong turn deserve a second chance to contribute to our economy after paying their debt to society. Two out of three adults who serve time had a job before they went to jail, but incarceration can reduce their earning potential by 40 percent when they get out.
The emphasis at CSOSA is on accountability and opportunity. The professionals here agree that the majority of re-entrants leave incarceration desperately wanting a fresh, positive start. But that optimism can be frustrated if they lack a living wage, affordable housing and literacy skills. Without shelter, income and job training, recidivism is all too common.
Transitional programs like this one take a community-wide approach to ensuring the success of their residents. They form long-term partnerships with employers, non-profits, and faith-based organizations to provide a network of support in the areas of job training, placement and retention.
Here in the District, 211 faith institutions serve as mentors to our formerly incarcerated population, emphasizing family reunification, parenting classes, relapse prevention, job coaching and pro-social skills. During my visit, I met with countless success stories—people who have turned their lives around with the help of a community that cares. It was inspiring to see District of Columbia residents come together to make a difference in so many lives.
At the Department of Labor, one of the ways we’re committed to helping is by working with at-risk youth. We need our young people to see a positive future before they make a wrong turn. This summer, we announced the first-ever grant awards under our new Civic Justice Corps that works with young people who have served in the juvenile justice system. We’re giving them service opportunities and skills training so they can go back to school and pursue career pathways.
We have also initiated a summer jobs initiative to encourage employers across the country to provide part-time or summer employment to our youth. This program can also play a key role in keeping young people on the right track.
In San Francisco, we’re piloting a program called “Think Before You Ink.” As the program’s name indicates, many young people don’t think about the long-term impact that tattoos can have on their future employability. They learn the hard way as they leave the youth culture and look for a job. We hope to work with medical schools and dermatologists to replicate this pilot project on a national scale.
This summer, I wrote on this blog about the benefits of turning “tax takers” into taxpayers. After my visit to CSOSA this week, I believe more strongly than ever that community collaborations that integrate this underserved population back into the workforce are good for public safety, good for our economy and good common sense.