Vol. 9, Issue 4: The Returning Citizen: A Public Justice Perspective On Reintegrating The Formerly Incarcerated

Denise Strothers and Kerwin Webb (Contributing Editors)

7. Returning Citizens: Components Of A Successful Reentry An Interview With Dr. Dean Trulear Of Healing Communities

Harrold Dean Trulear, Ph.D.

Successfully reintegrating the formerly incarcerated into society is important for individuals, families, and the economy. Fwd.us is “a bipartisan political organization that believes America’s families, communities, and economy thrive when more individuals are able to achieve their full potential.” The organization’s website notes “our criminal justice system poses one of the greatest challenges confronting our country today.” Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, an ordained Baptist minister, Associate Professor of Theology at Howard University School of Divinity, and a returning citizen is also the National Director of Healing Communities is a nonprofit organization that assists churches and faith communities for the work of assisting returning citizens, and provides “a framework for a distinct form of ministry for men and women returning from or at risk of incarceration, their families and the larger community.” Dr. Trulear spoke with Public Justice Review (PJR) editor Kerwin Webb about the genesis of Healing Communities, the challenges with reintegrating returning citizens, and how one of the most important components of a successful reentry is a good social support network.

6. Preempting Incarceration: Restorative Justice for Disruptive & At-Risk Youth in High Schools

Suubi Mondesir

Criminal justice reform is a potent issue at this time in our history. Lawmakers, activists, and other community and faith-based groups are working to reverse the trend of human warehousing in the United States. This article will attempt to spell out the importance and reasoning behind why one approach, restorative justice, should be implemented in high schools for at-risk youth. By focusing on the needs of the victims, offenders, and the involved community, restorative justice in schools acknowledges the extenuating circumstances surrounding the student, and attempts to address smaller issues before allowing they turn into bigger problems, such as crime. Practices such as talking circles, mediation, and meditation can be implemented as an alternative to more disciplinary actions like detention, suspension, and expulsion. A public justice perspective recognizes that school administrators, teachers, parents, and students all play a role in creating a system that will maintain school discipline without placing students on a glide-path to prison. This article attempts to explain why implementing restorative justice practices in schools can engage a number of institutions and help reduce the number of eventual returning citizens.

5. Mass Incarceration and Families: A Shared Task of Healing

Collin Slowey

Much of the talk surrounding criminal justice reform is centered on theincarcerated population and returning citizens. These major social issues have major social ramifications, and the full effects of our prison crisis are actually far more extensive than most Americans probably realize. Political science student Collin Slowey reflects on a new report by FWD.us that reveals the depth and breadth of the wounds that mass incarceration has inflictedon American families.

4. Turning to the Community for Reentry Housing: Collaboration between Public Housing Authorities and Civil Society to Promote Reintegration

Abigail Stevens

What can the average citizen do for the nine million men and women who are released from prisons and jails each year? Caring for returning citizens in a time of mass incarceration when the United States holds 25 percent of the incarcerated population and three out of four incarcerated people are rearrested within five years can seem to be a daunting and unrelated task for civil society. As issues of mass incarceration and reintegration are brought to the forefront of public discourse, it can be an easy tendency to look solely to the Bureau of Prisons to fix the broken transition from incarceration to freedom. However, being a neighbor to the returning citizens in our communities, churches, businesses, and neighborhoods is more essential than many realize. People of faith have a unique opportunity and responsibility to extend hospitality to returning citizens in the United States. Safe and supportive housing for men and women as they come home from incarceration is essential to their successful reentry. Improving the reentry process to keep returning citizens from returning to prison requires an integrated effort from individuals alongside government and civil society institutions.

3. Food Security for Returning Citizens in the 21st Century

Pastor Kimberly Luck

The subject of mass incarceration leads to discussions about finding ways to help individuals re-enter communities successfully. Pastor Kimberly Luck explores how returning citizens often face food insecurity and shows how food security can act as a means to reduce recidivism. Using a public justice framework, Pastor Luck shows how both individuals and organizations can advocate for changes in policies affecting returning citizens. Faith-based and community organizations can be part of the process by networking, sharing resources, and creating spaces for stories to be told. This interaction can become an educational opportunity for both returning citizens and the broader community. Returning citizens can share their experiences and give voice to their challenges while simultaneously learning about organizations, programs, and opportunities to become more food secure. As a result, collaborative groups that include returning citizens play a role in advocating for legislation and policies that value the humanity and welfare of all citizens, and promotes flourishing of returning citizens.

2. Overcoming the Mark of Cain: The Importance of Education in Reentry

Vicar Erich Kussman, M.Div.

There are countless groups and communities suffering from systemic oppression, and Christians must be ready to acknowledge and discuss this complicated reality in our society. Returning citizens – individuals re-entering society after periods of incarceration – can face insurmountable challenges as they navigate basic tasks, such as health care, applying for jobs, finding housing, pursuing education, or even exerting their right to vote. Criminal conviction seems to carry a life sentence for both the formerly incarcerated and their loved ones. The stigma of incarceration is arguably similar to the Genesis story of the mark of Cain, a curse given to him after he murdered his brother Abel. How can Christians, and civil society institutions, contribute positively to the flourishing of these “marked” men and women? Princeton Theological Seminary graduate, Vicar Erich Kussman, M. Div., writes about creative programs and strategies for supporting returning citizens, drawing upon his own experience serving 12 years in the New Jersey State Prison system. Erich shows how institutions in civil society can help returning citizens overcome the “mark” of incarceration, including a reduction in crime and recidivism, not to mention a restoration of human dignity.

1. Life after Incarceration: Maintaining Employment as a Practical Challenge Facing Returning Citizens

Denise Strothers and Kerwin Webb

The term “ex-con” or “ex-offender” is often used to describe an individual who has returned from a period of incarceration. It is common for those who are formerly incarcerated to face barriers related to securing housing, accessing financial aid for college, and even regaining the right to vote. But what happens after a person has paid his or her debt to society? What is the role of institutions in helping the formerly incarcerated resume “normal” life and perhaps even contribute to the common good? This series attempts to provide a public justice perspective on ways the government, concerned citizens, and civil society institutions can aid returning citizens. Bringing her ministry experience and seminary studies to the forefront, co-Contributing Editor Denise Strothers joins with PJR Editor Kerwin Webb to provide readers a robust discussion on the challenges and creative solutions related to supporting the formerly incarcerated. Among the contributing writers for this series are National Director for Healing Communities USA and Associate Professor of Applied Theology at Howard University School of Divinity Dr. Dean Trylear; Director of Operations for the Bail Project and 2016 Just Leadership USA Fellow Shelton McElroy; prison reform advocate Vicar Erich Kussmane (MDiv), who writes from his own experience serving time behind bars; and Abigail Stevens, an Eastern University economic development major, and recipient of CPJ's Hatfield Prize for student-faculty research. These writers share how civil society and governmental institutions might take steps to support the successful reintegration of returning citizens.