Local officials take a moment to celebrate ongoing efforts to help former inmates make it on the outside.
Eight years ago, Detective Kim Bogucki asked several incarcerated women a question: “If there was something someone could have said or done that would have changed the path that led you here, what would it have been?”
Their answers inspired the Seattle police officer to create the IF Project, which works to steer women away from prison and to help those who have been locked up avoid going back.
She was one of several people who spoke Tuesday at a gathering in Seattle about the importance of helping people succeed after prison — and the promising efforts in this state, including the IF Project, which is part of the Seattle Police Department.
From Chief Kathleen O’Toole down, Bogucki said, Police Department leaders are so committed to helping formerly incarcerated people that the department won a federal Second Chance grant to open a re-entry center in Seattle. She said it’s the first time a police department has been awarded a re-entry center grant.
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The center of Tuesday’s event was Gov. Jay Inslee signing an executive order directing 10 state agencies to take specific actions — from reducing barriers to employment to making sure health coverage is restarted after prison — that will help people make a go of it on the outside.
Similar events were held around the country this week, which the U.S. Department of Justice has declared National Reentry Week to highlight efforts to lower recidivism.
There is progress to celebrate.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg has been outspoken about the need to help people prepare for life after prison and to make it easier for them to get jobs, housing and health care so they don’t offend again, and he convened a statewide summit in 2012 to come up with suggestions for improving the way re-entry is handled. Leesa Manion, his chief of staff, said Tuesday the work is about public safety, wise use of public money and “recapturing human potential.”
A report from the summit said most of that work had been left to nonprofits and private groups and that government needed to step up its role.
FareStart, the restaurant where the Tuesday event was held, is one of those nonprofit organizations. You may know FareStart for its work moving people from homelessness to self-sufficiency, but people who’ve done time have always been among the people it helps, CEO Megan Karch said. “They were walking through our door after they’d stumbled around for six months.”
But FareStart is more proactive now. For the past couple of years it has had a partnership with the Department of Corrections to identify people who could benefit from its program before they get out of prison and to start preparing them during the last months of their sentences for a smooth transition.
Public policymakers need to be smart like FareStart.
State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, a Seattle Democrat who represents the 43rd Legislative District, said there is agreement from both political parties on the importance of improving re-entry. He cited bills passed in the most recent legislative session, including one he sponsored that allows people with a record to apply for a certificate that would allow them to work in 90 licensed jobs that previously were unavailable to them.
“Second chances are good, necessary and humane,” Walkinshaw said.
Inslee said 17,000 people are in state prisons. “Every week is re-entry week for 150 people who leave prison and return to our neighborhoods,” he said. Most of them aren’t prepared for life on the outside, and they face barriers to housing and employment. They need a hand.
Jordan Rosario got out four months ago after serving six years. She said it was hard, but getting help from the IF Project is keeping her on track. In prison she was assigned a mentor and she took lots of classes in which she learned about everything from health to self-esteem to codependency.
But she said what really is making a difference for her is the continued support of her mentor and the program, “just feeling welcomed back into the community.”
“Everybody knows what it feels like to be isolated and shunned or not validated, I mean it hurts …” but she said support keeps you from going back to old ways.
That’s something we should all want and celebrate.