- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

President Clinton recently addressed a serious issue that should be a high priority for the residents of the District of Columbia. In support of Attorney General Janet Reno's call for increased funding for re-entry programs, he urged Congress to provide $145 million for initiatives that provide closer supervision of and resources for the nearly 600,000 individuals who are projected to be released from prison this year.
Re-entry is not just the latest buzzword in the field of criminal justice; it is a serious undertaking to ensure that the supervised population does not pose a threat to public safety. Indeed, this is a major challenge facing this nation. As large cadres of ex-offenders begin transitioning from prison back to their families and communities, we need to do all that we can to reduce the likelihood that they will commit new crimes.
On the local scene, a new federal agency, the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) has assumed responsibility for the transition of offenders and defendants into the community. Certified on Aug. 4, CSOSA supervises nearly 30,000 adult offenders. Many of these individuals were sentenced for crimes involving illegal substances, and without targeted interventions most will arrive home with the same problems that got them in trouble in the first place.
This is a serious public safety issue. National studies indicate that two-thirds of all ex-offenders will be arrested within three years of release. In D.C., most parolees re-offend within the first seven months of release. To reduce crime in the city, Chief of Police Charles Ramsey put more police officers on the streets. However, this measure alone will not be enough to handle the growing population of individuals who might be tempted to commit new crimes. Supervising the men and women under criminal justice control in the District of Columbia is a worthy challenge that requires a holistic, community-based approach.
The successful integration of offenders into communities through increased accountability and social support is the hallmark of CSOSA's Re-Entry System. Previously, offenders incarcerated in the District of Columbia's prison system returned to the community with minimal support and supervision. There was clearly a need for a new approach. CSOSA took the lead in implementing an innovative program to reduce crime and enhance public safety through close supervision, swift and certain responses to violations, treatment, support services, and effective partnerships with the community, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and other agencies.
Before initiating the re-entry system, CSOSA conducted an intensive process of collecting data on the offender population to gain a clearer understanding of who was being released into the community. The data revealed that most D.C. parolees were unemployed or unemployable, lacked basic literacy skills, and had substance-abuse problems. The re-entry system was designed to provide an array of services, including drug testing, substance abuse treatment, life-skills training, housing assistance, job training and referral services.
CSOSA's Re-entry System has three phases: transitional services; enhanced supervision and community reintegration; and relapse/recidivism prevention and restitution.
During Phase 1, offenders are placed in highly structured community transitional centers for a 30- to 120-day period. During the first 14 days of this phase, the offender is not allowed to leave the center. CSOSA's Transitional Intervention for Parole Supervision team conducts comprehensive risk and needs assessments during this period. Offenders enter into performance contracts with CSOSA. This phase enables the offender to develop essential supportive relationships in the community.
Through enhanced supervision, during Phase 2, which lasts a minimum of six months, the offender is prepared to reintegrate into the community. Structured activities such as community service are performed and the offender is introduced to a quality supervision team.
A restorative justice component has been added to CSOSA's Re-entry System through memoranda of understanding with the D.C. Departments of Public Works and Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. This enables offenders to participate in community service projects.
Phase 3 will last a minimum of six months with the aim of helping the offender become more independent in the community and ensuring that a firm support system is in place to help the offender resist illegal activities.
During the Spring of 2000, CSOSA implemented its re-entry pilot project in the 6th Police District, and with the MPD it has already established several successful community justice partnerships.
The centerpiece of CSOSA's first re-entry project is the Learning Lab located at St. Luke's Center. Grant funding allowed CSOSA to purchase computer equipment and to hire specialists who provide educational, vocational and employment training to prepare offenders for jobs with upward mobility.
Collaborations between Fannie Mae and the Urban Institute may create opportunities for CSOSA to find affordable housing for re-entry offenders. In addition, the Clark Construction Company and other private sector employers have pledged their support by offering jobs to qualified ex-offenders.
In the future, CSOSA plans to expand city-wide We are encouraged by the president's support and by the recently introduced legislation that would authorize $23 million, over a five-year period, to buttress CSOSA's re-entry efforts. Meanwhile, we strongly urge the citizens of the District of Columbia to join our networks and become partners as we try to improve public safety.

Jasper Ormond and Robert Murphy Jr. are public affairs officers at CSOSA.

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