Reentry Getting Increased Attention

It’s not as though reentry is a new concept for the juvenile justice field. But reading the tea leaves, it appears to JJ Today that it might become the new emphasis for what scarce resources make their way to state and local agencies while the recession continues to pound state budgets. Two pieces of news, one national in scope and one at the state level, contributed to our analysis. 

Nationally, Goodwill Industries is not known for its work with youth; certainly youth work is not its signature attribute. But here are the 2007 numbers compiled from its 169 territories by Goodwill’s national office:

Number of youth served under 16: 45,000.
Number of youth served between the ages of 16 and 24: 158,264.
Number of at-risk youth served: 60,000.

Why is this interesting? Because in the coming months, the organization expects to begin a very public campaign for increased attention to offender reentry. That focus on reentry has already begun within Goodwill, which circulated this position statement to agencies before the holiday season.

“The financial impact on communities is significant when ex-offenders return to their communities, cannot find employment, violate their probation or parole and are then returned to jail or prison,” the paper states.

It’s not surprising that Goodwill would take the lead on the issue – look at its recent clientele. In 2005, 80 of its agencies reported serving a total of 45,000 ex-offenders. In 2007, 120 agencies reported serving 90,000.

If you’re in one of the areas of the country where Goodwill already has a strong youth focus – Denver and Saint Petersburg, Fla., are the clear leaders, followed by New York, San Antonio, Austin and Indianapolis – there’s a good chance the priorities on youth and reentry will collide naturally.

For organizations in other places, now might be the time to forge an alliance on reentry work with Goodwill. Why? Goodwill’s funding through second-hand clothing sales should be relatively stable in coming months, particularly in comparison to the many organizations at the mercy of foundation or fee-for-service support. 

On the local level, we turn to Minnesota, where the second annual Second Chance Day will take place next week. Advocates, ex-offenders and their families will gather at the State Capitol Rotunda to urge the state to use seven specific principles to craft a better policy for helping adults and juveniles coming back into the community.

Sarah Walker, one of the event’s coordinators, said last year’s Second Chance Day was just a random idea that was thrown together to garner a little attention. “We honestly thought people wouldn’t show up,” said Walker, who is chief operating officer of Minneapolis-based 180 Degress. “But we ended up with about 500 to 700 people.”

Last year’s event also taught Walker that it would have had more impact if more entities and advocates that are traditionally outside the youth fray had been involved.

“Reentry is an issue of juveniles moving into adulthood,” Walker said. “We wanted to have a more comprehensive view of that transition.” To that end, this year’s Second Chance Day includes organizations that focus on adult offenders and mental health issues.

Another supporter of Second Chance Day, both financially and politically, is the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy voice of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. That is huge: the archdiocese has a lobbyist on the payroll and does not have to worry about the lobbying rules that govern most nonprofits and community groups. 

With a larger group of interested parties, this year’s event won’t focus on specific legislation but on the seven core principles supporters hope will guide any new legislation. Several pertain specifically to juvenile offenders, including: proper use of pre-trial detention, access to employment and training, and continued access to addiction treatment and mental health services upon release.

Walker also intends to emphasize the cost-effectiveness of better reentry policy. “We have the worst budget crisis in the country,” she said of Minnesota. And when it comes to rehabilitating and preparing prisoners so that they won’t return to the system, “there is nowhere else in government where we’d allow so much to be spent for such little results.”

Walker said the event has piqued the interest of organizations in Florida and Louisiana. 

Assisting Walker in coordinating Second Chance Day: Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota. Other partnering organizations include RS Eden, a large multi-service agency in the state, the Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota and the Council on Crime and Justice.

RS Eden President Dan Cain said he’s pleased that reentry is getting some attention, but fears that state budget concerns will limit the extent to which lawmakers can help. “When state budgets get to where you have to weigh priorities,” he said, “the bricks and mortar” of justice are almost always going to outweigh other services.


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