Church symposium reaches out to ex-offenders

(Source: The Philadelphia Tribune)

Thursday, 18 October 2012 15:19

Although the problems of previously incarcerated individuals are issues that cross all ethnicities and ages and affect every neighborhood in the country to some degree, in Philadelphia these problems deeply affect the African-American community to a greater degree.

Law enforcement officials across the city will readily confirm that most of the violent crime in Philadelphia is caused by young Black males with a prison record. Likewise, so are the majority of the victims, and finding ways to successfully deter this criminally active minority is a major time consuming enterprise.

In Philadelphia, the city supports an organization called Reintegration Services for Ex-offenders, or R.I.S.E., which has been in place for several years. But in an era of a weak job market and where the recidivism rate approaches 50 percent, increasing services and options for ex-offenders is always a good thing.

On Oct. 27, 2012, the Tasker Street Missionary Baptist Church will be hosting a symposium for individuals returning to the community from prison. Seeking to initiate solutions from different angles, Pastor Mike Lovett, Dr. Kay Johnson and Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said the problems of ex-offenders are pervasive and affect the quality of life in every community in Philadelphia.

“Especially in Point Breeze,” Lovett said. “The Point Breeze community has a very high percentage of people coming out of prison – and in terms of services for these individuals, not a lot is happening. We think the Black churches could be, and should be, doing a lot more to help. This is a multi-cultural, non-denominational symposium. Race and religious or non-religious background are not relevant.”

Dr. Kay Johnson, who along with her husband Dr. Michael Johnson will be spearheading some of the workshops and discussions during the symposium, said helping ex-offenders become productive members of the community should be one of the priorities of the Black churches. Listed among the various workshops will be information on how to conduct gun buy-backs, women’s and youth ministries and other workshops and discussions.

“We really want to acquaint the churches about the literally tens of thousands of people coming out of prison and the problems they have related to returning to the communities,” Johnson said. “They need addiction services, their families need assistance, and the majority of them need housing and jobs. R.I.S.E. is doing its job, but we’re in a climate of shrinking state and city budgets. The churches can help in this.”

City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson said his office wants to help make the symposium a success and has thrown his support behind the effort.

“I’m a longtime member of Tasker Street Missionary and I want this event to be a success,” Johnson said. “Helping recently incarcerated people is a ministry that starts while these individuals are still in prison. We have to help them get into the right state of mind, and this church was one of those that stepped up. This is an issue that affects all of us – a bullet doesn’t discriminate.”

According to the latest statistics provided by the federal government, 95 percent of the people currently in prison will be released at some point. When they are, unless there are consistent, intense and thorough programs and services in place ready to assist them, they are going to recidivate, said Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole. Cole spoke at length during the Southeastern Regional Reentry Conference on Tuesday of this week.

“Today, some 2.3 million people – or more than 1 in 100 American adults – are behind bars in the United States. At some point, 95 percent of these prisoners will be released,” Cole said. “This translates into some 700,000 people coming out of our state and federal prisons every year.  Two-thirds of all released state prisoners will be re-arrested within three years, and half will return to prison.  Among released federal prisoners, 40 percent are re-arrested or have their supervision revoked within 3 years. Aside from the very serious implications for public safety, recidivism also impacts budgets at the federal, state, and local levels.  Our Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than $74 billion is spent on federal, state, and local corrections annually.  In fact, it is one of the most expensive items in any state budget.  And with more than $6.5 billion spent on the Bureau of Prisons each year — it takes up a substantial portion of the Department of Justice budget as well. The nation faces significant challenges in ensuring the safe and successful reintegration of formerly incarcerated individuals into the communities. The issues are complex and the stakes are high.  But in order to effectively respond to these challenges, we must work together and engage stakeholders at every level in these joint efforts to find lasting solutions.”

According to statistics provided by the National Reentry Resource Center, nine million people are released from federal, state and local prisons every year and all will need some kind of assistance; especially in the form of jobs and housing.

  • Federal and state corrections facilities held over 1.6 million prisoners at the end of 2010 — approximately one of every 201 U.S. residents.
  • At least 95 percent of state prisoners will be released back to their communities at some point.
  • During 2010, 708,677 sentenced prisoners were released from state and federal prisons, an increase of nearly 20 percent from 2000.
  • Approximately 9 million individuals are released from jail each year.
  • Nearly 4.9 million individuals were on probation or parole at the end of 2010.
  • In a study that looked at recidivism in over 40 states, more than four in 10 offenders returned to state prison within three years of their release.
  • In 2009, parole violators accounted for 33.1 percent of all prison admissions, 35.2 percent of state admissions, and 8.2 percent of federal admissions.
  • Twenty-three percent of adults exiting parole in 2010 – 127,918 individuals – returned to prison as a result of violating their terms of supervision, and 9 percent of adults exiting parole in 2010 – 49,334 individuals – returned to prison as a result of a new conviction.

“This Administration and this Department of Justice have made effective reentry a priority.  We are working on all fronts – and across many agencies – to promote viable reentry programs, explore innovative practices, support research, and expand partnerships,” Cole said. The Attorney General chairs a Federal Interagency Reentry Council composed of 20 federal agencies – bringing together cabinet officials and other leaders to tackle some of the most pressing reentry challenges.  The purpose of the Council is to leverage federal reentry resources and to improve community safety, help returning inmates to become productive citizens, and lower the direct and collateral costs of incarceration. In the year-and-a-half of its existence, the Council has had tremendous success in lowering barriers to successful reentry.”

Cole said the Justice Department has helped publicize resources that can aid individual jurisdictions in their reentry efforts. He said that the Obama Administration is committed to creating new strategies and forging critical partnerships that can help make the transition from corrections facilities to communities easier and safer. These efforts are aimed at giving jurisdictions the tools they need to help returning prisoners become productive, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens while discouraging behavior that may land them back in jail or prison.

Lovett said that although a great many churches in Philadelphia already have prison ministries he thinks they need to unite more and concentrate their efforts in order to be more effective. “We tend to narrow our outreach to the individual pews and we need to broaden our efforts. That’s one of the reasons why I said this is non-denominational and multi-cultural. This isn’t about a person’s individual faith but about where they live.”

The Tasker Street Missionary Baptist Church is located at 2010 Tasker Street Philadelphia, PA For more information about the symposium call (215) 389-8282.