MANSFIELD: Reentry Week

Reentry certainly has come a long way from when the first committee was formed back in 2003 to address the needs of individuals returning home from incarceration. I was asked by then-Mayor Jane Campbell to serve on the committee since I had such an in-depth knowledge of the issue. I had reentered society from prison a total of five times over a three decades long career as a professional counterfeiter.

So one could say that indeed I was a genuine expert on the subject, and other than individuals like Charles See (who ran Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries’ reentry program, which is perhaps the oldest such organization in the U.S. dedicated to serving this population) and a few others, there were not too many folks who knew what they were doing back then. Indeed, most people were still of the frame of mind that we as a society should make it as hard as possible on people returning home from prison. Still others would have preferred to brand formerly incarcerated individuals with an “F” for “Felon” on their foreheads, and in fact, some still do. But for the most part, times have thankfully changed.

Well over a decade ago the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry was established to focus community efforts on improving outcomes for individuals as they transitioned from prison back into the community. But similar to some other governmental initiatives and offices, it was all smoke and mirrors. The department was headed up by an empty suit whose primary skill was making it appear that he was engaged in meaningful work while actually not doing jackshit.

Fortunately the dude finally retired and Crystal Bryant, a very talented and dedicated young lawyer who knows her way around county government, was named as his replacement. Shouts of glee went up from those of us who have dedicated a good portion of our working lives to reentry.

“Many individuals return to socially and economically disadvantaged communities, which limits the number of opportunities available to support a successful reintegration back into the community and neighborhoods,” said Bryant when I interviewed her. “Given the complexity of the challenges faced by returning offenders, a reentry office focused only on programs may not adequately address the issues faced by this population.”

She continued by stating, “The Office of Reentry recognizes that the reality of today’s economy and many policies which are designed to assist individuals within this targeted population fail to address barriers and ultimately perpetuate the enduring effects of incarceration. Reentry has many cross-level effects that call for interagency collaborations to serve individuals, whose needs cross multiple systems. Because of this, the Office of Reentry is focusing on a systems approach to removing barriers and creating efficiency that will interface with all levels of government, maximizing on our resources and focus on the advancement of policies and programs that connect justice-involved persons with meaningful opportunities. This, in turn will lead to stronger and safer communities.”

See, I told you she knows her stuff.

A concrete example of the new thinking in the field of reentry is the converting of the Bedford Heights City Jail to a “comprehensive reentry programming center” that provides job training, substance abuse counseling and culinary courses for prisoners, many of them commonly known as “frequent fliers,” those petty criminals who constantly recycle in and out of jail on a regular basis, costing you and me tax dollars that could be better spent somewhere else. We save money by solving the problems of this demographic.

So, as stated earlier, things are different now … hearts and minds are changing. As part of the county administration’s commitment to strengthening the reentry system, the county executive, along with county council, designated the week of April 23-27, 2018, as “Cuyahoga County Reentry Awareness Week.”  The week will feature a series of events designed to highlight the important work of successful reentry and improved outcomes for returning citizens. Visit the website at reentry.cuyahogacounty.us for more detailed information.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.

 

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