Coming out of prison after three years, it was no sure thing that Chris Chatman would be able to get back on his feet. A few traffic tickets he had received before being imprisoned had gone to collections, which could have prevented him from getting a driver’s license, he said.
Chatman says his reentry into the world outside prison went far smoother than he anticipated thanks, in part, to programs offered through several federal agencies, including the Seattle-based U.S. attorney, public defender, U.S. Probation Office and the Bureau of Prisons.
Chatman, standing alongside representatives of those agencies, spoke to the media on Monday morning about his experiences with reentry programs for federal inmates. Among them was a warrant-clearing initiative which helped him get a license and — according to Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle — resolve warrants he received for failing to comply with post-conviction requirements.
The initiative works by pairing up federal prosecutors with local prosecutors and federal defenders to assess standing warrants and find ways to take them off the books where possible. Chatman was one of the first people to move through the program, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Jaquette.
“Upon being sentenced, we noticed that I had a couple of warrants, so the warrant-squashing started then,” said Chatman, who had been imprisoned for being a felon in possession of a firearm. “They started talking to other prosecutors, you know … Everybody worked with each other to allow them to get [the warrants] squashed while I was on the inside. I started paying my fines, I started getting in programs, so that way, [I could be] productive when I got out.”
Another effort by the Western District is a reentry guidebook given to prisoners within six months of their release. Thirty-two pages long, the book aims to answer questions about everything from supervised release and halfway house policies to post-release housing, employment and voting rights.
The guide was created with input from the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac. According to Jaquette, the guide was first released in December 2018 and the warrant program started around December 2016.
“The warrants and the brochure … are great first steps in terms of removing barriers that a lot of folks face when they’re transitioning out into the community, and definitely are demonstrative of … saying in our actions and our words that the stakeholders do care about our clients’ success,” said Assistant Federal Defender Jennifer Wellman.
Chatman suggested that information about the resources available to convicts could be given to them earlier on in the legal process but otherwise expressed support for the programs.
“The hope and the expectation at the end of incarceration is that the incarcerated person will be released into our communities [and] will have a full and meaningful life after that,” said U.S. Attorney Brian Moran. “And that’s a win-win for everybody.”
The warrant-clearing program is one of only a handful nationwide, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. In the future, Moran said he hopes to see wider discussion of these sorts of programs among his colleagues.
“I will tell you, having just come back from a U.S. Attorney’s meeting in D.C., the interest is there,” Moran said. “I just don’t think the programming is there yet.”
Nearly six months after his release, Chatman is now working as a “Downtown Ambassador” with the Metropolitan Improvement District, keeping Seattle’s streets clean and helping lost tourists.
“I like the interaction,” he remarked. “I like being able to help people and know that these people aren’t looking [down] on me because of my past.”