A mayor’s mentor initiative for the formerly incarcerated. Helping people live productive lives. It’s good for everyone.
Between October 30th, 2015 and November 2nd, 2015, approximately 6,000 federal prisoners began their arduous journey to reintegration and redemption. These 6,000 souls are beneficiaries of the United States Department of Justice’s decision to simultaneously reduce prison overcrowding in American correctional facilities and make amends to drug offenders who were the recipient of extremely harsh sentences over the course of the past three decades.
One-third of these 6,000 souls are foreign nationals who are being, or have been, deported. It is estimated that a good portion of the other two-thirds are being housed in halfway houses or relegated to home confinement. These remaining 4,000 souls, who are embarking upon the arduous journey to reintegration and redemption, have the United States Sentencing Commission to thank for their change in fate.
An independent agency which establishes sentencing policies for federal crimes, the United States Sentencing Commission reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders and then moved to make the change retroactive – a move that is separate and apart from United States President Barack H. Obama’s efforts to grant clemency to certain nonviolent drug offenders. President Obama’s move to extend clemency to certain nonviolent drug offenders has, thus far, resulted in the early release of 89 inmates. The recent release of the 6,000 souls from America’s prisons is just the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that the change in sentencing guidelines could result in the release of 46,000 of approximately 100,000 drug offenders who currently reside in prisons throughout our nation.
Despite what you may have heard, formerly incarcerated individuals really do want to work. They understand that employment is a critical pathway for reintegration into society. And once they obtain employment, they are the most hard working, diligent, and loyal group of employees. The challenge for formerly incarcerated individuals has been – and continues to be – finding employers who want to hire them. Many employers are reluctant to hire an individual who has a criminal record.
Creating employment – a critical pathway to reintegration — is a shared responsibility. This is a fact that is clearly not lost on The Honorable James M. DeLeon, a veteran Philadelphia jurist and architect of Operation Fresh Start™ — a multi-tiered blueprint for implementing criminal justice reform — a national mandate issued by President Obama on 15 July 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative, one of a number of results-oriented components of Operation Fresh Start ™ was designed by Judge DeLeon to not only create employment for formerly incarcerated individuals but to simultaneously provide them with training.
It creates a win-win situation for formerly incarcerated individuals, the communities in which these formerly institutionalized souls live, and Chief Executive Officers of cities anywhere in the world who are grappling with recidivism and reintegration issues. Yes, The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative is portable! It will work in diverse cities such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Clinton, Oklahoma; Los Angeles, California; Baltimore, Maryland; Dorchester and Leeds in the United Kingdom; Gaborone, Botswana; or Gauteng in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Under The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative, formerly incarcerated individuals will receive mentorship training. They must commit to the Initiative for a period of one (1) full year. Participants in the Initiative will receive a review of any pardon or clemency request prior to its submission to ensure that it is accurate and that all factors are complete for consideration in Pardon and Clemency Applications. Formerly incarcerated individuals will be trained to become mentors by an organization that has a successful track record in training mentors. After completing training, these souls will be dispatched into communities to mentor at-risk youth for a period of one (1) year.
Administration of The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative in the United States would encompass the generation of a Letter of Understanding between the District Attorney’s Office and the Mayor’s Office laying out the benefits of the Initiative. Simultaneously, a Letter of Initiative which explains the program will be generated and distributed to any crime victim with the understanding that the victim has the right to approve – in writing – the proposed Mentor’s participation in the Initiative. Once the Mentor has successfully completed the Initiative, a letter will be generated to the Board of Pardons from the Mayor’s Office personally attesting to this fact. An understanding will be established with the State Supreme Court that the Mentor is a participant in The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative and a similar understanding will be established with the Governor’s Office.
Judge DeLeon has assembled a working group consisting of key stakeholders from diverse professional backgrounds who stand ready to help implement The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative by acting as a liaison between communities, organizations providing mentoring training, the Mayor’s Office, and formerly incarcerated individuals who are candidates for the Initiative.
Who will provide mentorship training? Mentorship training in the United States can be provided by organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (www.bbbs.org) which has offices in many major American cities such as New York and Philadelphia; the Mentoring Center of Central Ohio (www.mentoringcenterco.org) in Columbus, Ohio; the National Mentorship Partnership (www.mentoring.org) in Alexandria, Virginia; and Education Northwest (www.educatonnorthwest.org) in Portland, Oregon. In the United Kingdom, organizations such as Mentor International – Mentor UK (www.mentorinternational.org) and Mosaic (www.mosaicnetwork.co.uk) could be utilized to provide formerly incarcerated individuals with mentorship training. Mentoring 4 Success (www.mentoring4success.co.za) and the Centre for Coaching (www.centrecoaching.co.za) represent a sampling of organizations that could be approached to provide mentorship training for formerly incarcerated individuals in Southern Africa.
So, once equipped with mentorship training, who would these formerly incarcerated individuals mentor? At-risk youth who live and go to school in economically toxic , crime-ridden and blighted communities. The same communities that many of these formerly incarcerated individuals grew up and are returning to.
Many at-risk youths find it difficult to resist the gravitational pull of crime as they know more individuals who have gone to prison than those who have gone to college or have pursued a legitimate and successful career in the business world. When they look at their neighborhoods, they do not see real-life options for themselves. In their eyes, they have no incentive to finish high school, apply for and attend college, and mature into productive and successful adults. Many erroneously believe that going to prison is nothing more than “a ride down and a walk back”.
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Formerly incarcerated individuals who receive mentorship training will utilize their skills as Mentors to expose these young men and women to the truth – that there is no glory in going to prison or engaging in a life of crime. The Mentors will encourage them to complete their education, help them identify and create legitimate real-life options for themselves, and set goals that will steer them away from the gravitational pull of criminal activity – goals that will help them mature into productive and successful adults.
Why will this work? Simply because many at-risk youth will only listen to, respect, and trust someone who has been “behind the wall”.
The neighborhoods are the “heart and soul” of our cities. Is it wise to allow economically disenfranchised, formerly incarcerated individuals and at-risk youth (who are falling into the deep abyss of hopelessness and unable to resist the gravitational pull of criminal activity as a means of economic survival) to wander aimlessly throughout the streets of our neighborhoods – leading unfulfilled lives and wreaking havoc?
The havoc and hopelessness that we allow to fester in our neighborhoods because we are not providing formerly incarcerated individuals with a pathway to reintegration will eventually engulf our cities. Nothing or no one will go unscathed. So goes the neighborhoods, so goes our cities. The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative is a key “piece of the puzzle” to providing the thousands upon thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals who will come pouring into our neighborhoods with employment; helping hundreds of thousands of at-risk youth to mature into productive and successful adults; and transforming our beleaguered cities into an economically vibrant and safe oasis.
Isn’t that we want? Isn’t that what we need?
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