Testimony in Support of Expanded Budget for MORCA
Rabbi Charles Feinberg
Interfaith Action for Human Rights
May 4, 2017
My name is Charles Feinberg and I am the Executive Director of Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR). IAHR represents people of faith from Maryland, the District, and Virginia. Our mission is to end policies and practices that promote torture in our society as well as affirming the dignity of each human being. I am also a member of the DC Reentry Task Force and I am a resident of the District, residing in Ward 4.
I am testifying in support of expanding the budget of MORCA in the following ways:
- Strategic Planning: Funds should be added to MORCA’s budget to engage a strategic planning consultant. The plan will allow MORCA to clarify its role in the re-entry process, define its relationship with other system players, and create an accountability structure for achieving its goals as D.C.’s re-entry hub. A larger FY19 budget ask will be based upon the results of this strategic plan.
- Additional Staff: Fund 2 full-time case managers for MORCA. This will double the office’s capacity to serve its returning citizen clients in the short-term.
Returning citizens have to overcome many obstacles in order to become functioning independent residents of the District. Men and women coming home from serving time in federal prison often do not recognize the city since it has changed rapidly in their absence. They need assistance in navigating public transportation, in attaining a photo id, in purchasing a metro card, and in finding a place to live. Returning citizens need guidance and assistance in how to go about looking for a job in our community. Whether it is writing a resume or learning how to conduct themselves in a job interview, they need our support. Often returning citizens need to learn new skills in order to become employable. They need an agency who will be their support and their advocate. They need one central office who will give them the information they need to begin to acclimate themselves to living in Washington.
Last fall, I attended a Seminar at the Brookings Institute on Reentry and Recidivism. Many learned professors and attorneys spoke at this program. I learned some important facts. One fact is that the national recidivism rate for returning citizens is 51%. I also learned that if a returning citizen can pass through the first 18 months home without incident; then the recidivism rate drops down 5 to 10%! A number of the experts made the point that returning citizens are most vulnerable to breaking a parole rule or breaking the law during that first 18 months.
Why is that? We don’t give them the necessary support during that first year and a half home. Consider how expensive housing is in this city. Consider how difficult it is for a returning citizen to find work with a criminal record. While the District has passed a ban the box law, it is a law that is easily circumvented.
DC residents who are coming home, need an imaginative, well-staffed, and well-funded agency who will be there to give them the support they need. They need one agency with one address who will organize their integration into the community.
Today, returning citizens have to negotiate a host of agencies whose staff often do not understand the needs of these men and women. The way we handle reentry indicates that we as a community do not really care about these folks. We communicate a message that they really don’t count or matter and that we would be just as happy if they were back in prison. Often that is what happens. They get the message and they return to prison.
Let us at least start by funding two case workers for MORCA. MORCA then will be able to begin to address the needs of returning citizens.
Two case workers, however, is not sufficient. In order to effect change we need a vision and a plan for the men and women who return home every day. The first step is put into the budget of this great city the resources for MORCA to develop a strategic plan for DC residents coming home. This plan would incorporate values, vision, as well as the kind of staff needed to make the vision a reality. It is really important that returning citizens be involved in the creation of the vision and the plan. They are the experts. They know what they need and they know what has been unhelpful. By involving returning citizens in the creation of the plan, then we would be sending a strong message to them. We would be saying you matter; your opinions matter. We would be signaling to them that we want them to have a stake in the future of this city. We want them to be part of the future of District of Columbia.
Once vision, values, and a plan are in place, then we can begin to figure out how to implement the plan. We will have to build community support for the plan. We will have to see if we can implement it in a series of short term stages. If the community is involved in making this plan, then there will be support to implement and to find the funds to pay for it.
Too often, returning citizens are looked upon as scapegoats whenever there is an uptick in crime. Too often, we as a society assume that returning citizens are not important and are really bad people. If we continue to send that message, then I assure you the recidivism rate will remain at 51% But if we can send a message that we value returning citizens, that we want them to be part of our community, then we have an opportunity to reduce the numbers incarcerated and lessen the anger and bitterness among so many.
I urge this Council to take the first step by setting aside funds for MORCA to develop a strategic plan and to hire two case workers.