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Scores of them — including D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat — attended such an event Thursday evening in Northwest Washington. For them, background checks and marking X on the criminal history box on a housing or job application is an automatic kiss of death against self-sufficiency.

The U.S. Justice Department may be on their side with federal funds and the formulation of policies to aid ex-felons who are transitioning from prison. Funding for re-entry grants to states have quadrupled to $100 million, and Justice has a sentencing and corrections working group on behalf of federal prisoners.

While critics applaud ex-felons’ redemption values, they defend employers in search of safe workplace environments.

“The notion that criminal background checks disadvantage blacks and Latinos is based in the reality that blacks are 38 percent of the prison population but only 12 percent of the general population,” said another Project 21 member, Joe Hicks, host of’s “The Hicks File.” “This shouldn’t be used as an argument for eliminating employment standards, but a reason to understand and combat the dysfunction and violent criminality that’s an all-too-real part of poor black urban life.”

A spokesman for the federal Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), the Justice agency responsible for monitoring most D.C. returning felons, concedes lack of employment and housing opportunities can be problematic for ex-offenders, especially those who had little or no job experience or poor to no credit history before they were incarcerated.

On any given day, CSOSA touches the lives of an estimated 16,000 individuals, says CSOSA spokesman Leonard Sikes. And, he adds, community supervisors (or PO’s, as ex-felons call them) sometimes play the role of social workers.

But make no mistake, Mr. Sikes says, “public safety is the most important thing we do.”