Op-EdOpinion

DORCH: District Reparative Justice — Out of the Mouths of Babes

They’re back.

Yes, the UDC Criminal Justice Program Seniors are challenging city officials again as they have for the past few years. Last year they confronted Kevin Donahue, the deputy mayor for Public Safety and Justice, and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson over budget prioritizations and they are making a similar budget challenge again this year, only in a more thorough and comprehensive way.

A 2015 Inspector General report and a scathing assessment by former police Chief Cathy Lanier along with a series of Washington Post editorial board criticisms persuaded the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) to hire a consultant to assess and propose solutions to the District’s criminal justice system. The consultant’s preliminary report proposed that a single agency was needed to coordinate the operations of the local and federal parts of the District’s criminal justice system.

In his preliminary report, consultant Alonford James Robinson Jr., CEO of Symphonic Strategies, Inc., offered two models that the District might emulate. The first model, one recommended by the Manhattan Institute to the state of New Jersey, is one for which a state’s parole board serves as a “lead agency” orchestrating the policies and activities of other state agencies involved with criminal justice matters.

The second model is one for which an external agency, such as Chicago-based Safer Foundation, serves as a “lead agency insuring collaboration between various local and federal criminal justice agencies.”

Within weeks of the consultant’s oral presentation of his report, the Council for Court Excellence (CCE) submitted a report with a proposal that the District use a model similar to Montgomery County’s Jail Pre-Release Model. CCE’s recommendation is in sync with the deputy mayor’s new jail management responsibilities following his cancellation of the District’s 20-year Corrections Corporation of America contract.

Problem is, the three models did not address the inspector general’s and the Washington Post’s criticisms about the District’s lack of service capacity and its inability to track client data.

Yet Shana Campbell, the criminal justice senior whose senior paper addressed returning citizen Medicaid insurance, believed that the $49 million information technology (the DCAS system) purchased to comply with the District’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and currently replacing the TANF and SNAP legacy system (ACEDS), had client data-tracking capability and thereby was capable of coordinating services. She believes this because she’d learned that DCAS connects all social service caseworkers through name/social security matching and that once connected caseworkers electronically interact with one another in real time.

Students whose senior theses addressed returning citizen homelessness, Elizabeth Tutt and Datwan Ayer, believed that the Department of Housing and Community Development could increase returning citizen housing by creating “set-aside” development for them and by awarding additional points to developers for developing returning citizen housing on city RFPs. Yet Tutt and Ayer understood set-asides and RFP points would not yield nearly the amount of service capacity they needed for over a thousand CSOSA and DOC clients citizens. They thus continued their search for a more adequate model until one of their readings revealed one offered by Creative Housing Solutions.

The Florida housing development model, which creates permanent housing by renovating vacant and blighted housing for $40,000 per two-bedroom unit, intrigued the students because 2.2 jobs were created for each housing unit created. Thus, Tutt and Ayer saw model as being capable of creating an “ecosystem” often alluded to by returning citizen Kevin Smith as he lobbies city council to fund both DC Law 21-159 and the associated Aspire Entrepreneurship Program. Further, Tutt and Ayer saw the Creative Housing Solutions Model as the self-reliance model often alluded to by returning citizen Courtney Stewart.

Tutt and Ayer invited the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development to the classroom and presented their ideas. Their staff indicated that the building of low-income housing was merely a matter of moral “will.” Thus, the two students invited the Office of Religious Affairs and ask if building a faith-based crowd-sourcing platform would encourage faith organization to build a “banking” platform with enough funds to finance housing develop by returning citizens for returning citizens. The director of the one-man office told them they had to educate organizations such as the Washington Interfaith Network about dollar return and the social return of building a religious crowd-sourcing platform but did not offer to broker the conversation.

Understanding that the cost of inmate housing, halfway housing and homeless shelters for returning citizens was not the total cost, and that the cost of both custodial and noncustodial parent TANF and SNAP payments had to be added in the calculation, senior Shauntazia Spencer, whose thesis focuses on child support, resonated with the job-creation component of the Creative Housing Solutions Consultants Model. She did so because her readings lead her to believe that agencies that contracted to perform job placements for Department of Employment Services cannot compete with employer-contracted, private-staffing agencies, such as Z-Recruiter. Hence, she, too, included the model in the solutions section of her thesis.

Realizing that, although the District had already implemented Housing First initiatives, those initiatives were not currently producing returning citizen housing, Kevin Matthews and Clara Mosley, whose theses focused on the District’s problem-solving courts (the District’s drug and mental health courts), concurred with their two classmates and they both inserted the Creative Housing Solutions in the solutions section of their theses.

Students enamored with the Creative Housing Solutions model invited Industrial Bank to the classroom to determine why the Office of Small and Local Business Development in collaboration with the newly implemented Aspire Program were not already generating housing built by returning citizen plumbing and electrical entrepreneurs. In other words, why didn’t a returning-citizen ecosystem already exist? Without explaining why the ecosystem did not already exist, the Industrial Bank indicated numerous ways they could assist returning citizens in building a self-reliant ecosystem; from financial education classes to start-up loans.

Students attempting to generate funds to pay for GED teachers and mentors for returning citizens Michael Coley, Shaun Richards and Myeisha Anderson felt the Office of Partnerships and Grants Services (OPGS) could do more. The OPGS website reported there was $1.9 billion in funding available last year but did not report how much they had applied for or obtained. So the students invited the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, the Council on Foundations and the National Committee for Response Philanthropy (NCRP) to find answers.

The students learned that foundations had to be educated about the return on their dollar for funding criminal justice reform projects and that foundations could be nudged into funding criminal justice reforms by white papers and by the scores they received if they funded projects involving justice reforms.

Their instructor taught them how to do a cost-benefit analysis that compared their millennial self-reliance model to the law-and-order (i.e. jail) and parole board models proposed the CJCC Consultant and CCE and a request to be given permission to present their work to the CJCC Steering Committee was made.

To date, the students and their instructor have not been given permission to present their extensive research and resulting reform proposals, and the District’s criminal justice system remains in need of reform.

The University of the District of Columbia’s Criminal Justice Program graduates between 30 and 40 criminal justice students each year who go on to become police, court, correctional and parole officers. So what do these millennial criminal-justice stakeholders have to do to be heard? Burn something down?

Edwina Dorch retired from Texas A&M University in 2012 and is currently an adjunct professor in the Criminal Justice Program at the University of the District of Columbia.

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