By Cara Tabachnick
They are coming home. Of that there is no doubt—but how to reintegrate the formerly incarcerated into the workforce, and help them realize the economic potential of the “American dream” is a challenge that has largely eluded the criminal justice system.
Starting Monday, more than 30 top practitioners, academics and private-sector leaders will join journalists for two days of candid discussion on the lingering failures and inequities of the system and the economic impact those failures have had –not just on those who are released from prison, but on their families and neighborhoods— at the 9th annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
The Feb 10-11 symposium, sponsored by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice (CMCJ), which also publishes The Crime Report, is entitled “Justice and Prosperity.”
Every year approximately 700,000 ex-inmates are released from state and federal prisons. Almost nine million individuals are released from jail back to the community.
Yet 40 percent of those released reenter the criminal justice system in less than three years. Some are re-committed because of probation or parole violations. But more tragically, according to experts, advocates and law enforcement professionals the stigma of incarceration and the lack of economic opportunity is a major reason why many are unable to find their footing in legitimate society.
It is not for lack of trying.
The federal government has been instrumental is searching for way to integrate returnees into society. The 2008 Second Chance Act, provided funding to diverse re-entry programs across the country that make available job, education assistance and mental health counseling, among other services.
Since 2009, nearly 600 Second Chance Act grants, with a total funding amount of $255 million, have been awarded in 49 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Resource Reentry Council, a project of the Council of State Governments.
And there is a growing recognition that paying attention to the dynamics of our poorest urban and rural communities, where underachieving schools, inadequate housing and the lack of employment opportunities trap individuals—particularly the young—in a cycle that ends in the courts, jails and prisons, is crucial.
Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that the federal government would be focusing on creating “promise zones” in key communities across America to address this often overlooked linkage.
But the federal government’s efforts, along with programs led by states and municipalities, are only just a beginning. As the nation’s leadership begins to focus anew on economic inequality, innovative practices adapted by policymakers in the criminal justice area – in partnership with the private sector—are likely to play an important role.
This week’s conference will highlight the innovative programs underway and the research data supporting them, as well as point towards some of the bipartisan approaches that are changing the nation’s approach to criminal justice.
Collaboration between municipal governments and law enforcement agencies are a key element of the new approach.
William J. Bratton, the newly appointed Commissioner for the New York Police Department and one of the pioneers of community policing, will deliver opening remarks.
He will be joined by James Craig the chief of the Detroit Police Department, New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman, and Dana Redd, the mayor of Camden, NJ.
Other panels will focus on rebuilding communities with the help of the private sector, and on entrepreneurs who have created new economic opportunities for the formerly incarcerated. Speakers include Carol Naughton, of Purpose Built Communities, an Atlanta-based not-for profit; Navjeet Bal, of Nixon Peabody, a Boston law firm working on public-finance projects; and Frederick Hutson, founder of Pigeonly, a service for ex-inmates.
There will be a special panel with three of the country’s most prominent corrections bosses, who will address the role of corrections in preparing inmates for a return to workforce: Rick Raemisch of Colorado, Jeffery Beard of California and Brad Livingston of Texas.
Rounding out the conference will be a panel on policing the Web and balancing economic and privacy rights. Speakers include: Tim Ryan, Managing Director of Kroll Advisory Solutions, former head of the FBI’s cybercrime squad; Carmen Ortiz, U.S. Attorney, District of Massachusetts; and Tyson Johnson, a leading cyberfraud investigator for Bright Planet.
For a complete agenda, please click here.
This year 20 journalists from around the country were awarded fellowships to attend the conference based on story proposals.
On Monday night, following the end of the first day of discussions, the winners of the annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Prize for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting will be presented with their awards.
Winners for the 2014 prize in the series category were Megan O’Matz and John Maines from the SunSentinelof South Florida, for “Cops, Cash, Cocaine,” which documented how narcotics police paid informants to draw drug dealers to the city of Sunrise, FL.
The prize in the single-story category went to J. David McSwane of the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota FL for “The Stolen Ones,” a powerful expose of child sex-trafficking rings in Florida.
This is the second year CMCJ is honoring o a “Justice Trailblazer” to recognize the career achievements of a journalist or media worker in broadening public understanding of our country’s criminal justice system.
This year’s award goes to Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, which was made into the hit Netflix series.
To purchase tickets for the dinner, please click HERE.
The symposium is funded through a grant from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, with additional support from the Ford Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation and the Pew Public Safety Performance Project.
Cara Tabachnick is managing editor of The Crime Report.