- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed the Rev. Judith Talbert, executive director of the Reintegrating Alternatives Personal Program (RAPP).

Question: What inspired you to start a program to help ex-offenders re-enter the community?

Answer: I was inspired to start a mentoring program while individuals were still incarcerated to establish a relationship with them prior to release. This would help provide a safety net for the community, as well as provide personalized services to help meet specific and crucial needs the ex-offender is usually challenged with.

Thirty years ago, I began a prison ministry at Lorton and the old Women’s Bureau. But five years ago, we went into the Central Treatment Facility and the D.C. jail in Southeast and started mentoring.

Q: What programs do you offer?

A: We offer the following services, which consist of parole and probation monitoring; mentoring; counseling for substance abuse, anger management and domestic violence; victim support services; psychological therapy; academic enrichment; job-placement assistance and job readiness; communication workshops; visits; monthly correspondence to inmates nationwide and Celebrate Recovery.

Celebrate Recovery is a holistic, 12-step program based on eight biblical principles, which addresses an individual’s hurts, habits and hang-ups. We believe what the Bible says, and I preach that God’s word brings freedom, as declared in John 8:32 — “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Our clients come from Hope Village in Southeast, run by Jeffrey Varone, as well as other halfway houses in the District, word-of-mouth referrals and our collaborative partners — Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), the Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

CSOSA Director Paul Quander and his staff maintain parole oversight of nearly 2,500 ex-offenders that return annually to the District. RAPP hosts quarterly orientation sessions attended by hundreds of individuals that return to Ward 8 alone.

Q: Is RAPP making a difference?

A: Yes, RAPP is making a difference to offer alternatives and programs to incarceration.

Our program receives collaborative support from Mayor Anthony Williams; the Department of Human Services, whose director, Yvonne Gilchrist, is concerned about families; [D.C. Superior Court] Chief Judge Rufus King III; Judge Noel Kramer; U.S. Parole Commission Chairman Edward Riley; D.C. CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants) President Pauline Sullivan; and so many others who help the community.

We were invited by the special assistant to President Bush in the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to discuss the services of our re-entry program. He said he was impressed and would like to see the program modeled.

Also, we were invited to join the president and Mrs. Bush on April 1 for “Helping America’s Youth,” a new campaign Mrs. Bush kicked off across the country. One of the components of the program is mentoring children of incarcerated parents, and based on the presentation, I think it’s going to be an excellent program.

Q: Has RAPP succeeded?

A: Yes, the program has been a tremendous success. We have helped many individuals to become gainfully employed and reunited with their families, thus preventing recidivism.

With the assistance of the Metropolitan Police Department, Chief of Police Charles Ramsey — who is tough on crime — pledged his support and resources to the mission of RAPP to help create a safety net for the community. His expert knowledge of community policing and unique problem-solving skills are an asset.

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