Questions from the Returning Citizen's Candidates Forum

1)    Please answer with a simple “Yes” or “No”, Are you in favor of Building a Prison in DC?

[Yes.]

2)    Should the DC Government build a new jail?

[Yes.]

a)    Should the DC Government have a private company finance and build the jail — and; then, lease the building from the private company?

[No.]

b)    Should the DC Government have a private company operate its jail?

[No.]

3)    What steps should the DC Government undertake to encourage returning citizens to register to vote?

[Since the right to vote is returned automatically to all returning citizens upon release, voter registration should occur automatically at that point as well. Additional funding to MORCA to hire case managers and key staff would allow them to proactively ensure that registration information is up to date.]

4)    What support should the DC Government provide to returning citizens?

[We should start by providing additional funding to MORCA so additional case managers and key staff can be hired, to provide services for everyone who needs them. It is important to build on the current structured program available to those who require it within 180 days of release, but we should be expanding these programs to include services that connect returning citizens to existing housing, health and jobs programs in the city. Structured reentry activities and case management that provides critical learning opportunities on things like parenting, health literacy, resume and job preparation, computer skills and financial management are critical, but we need to start by electing DC Councilmembers who will commit to making sure the funding is there. This means electing people who have the compassion, empathy, and commitment to ensure our returning citizens come home and are on the glidepath to success.]

5)    How will you leverage your position to bring more dollars to DC for Workforce Development?

[Budgets are moral documents, and our funding priorities reflect our values. One of the most inexcusable votes my opponent has taken was last summer, when he decided to cut the corporate and estate tax rates. Cutting taxes for the ultra-wealthy when we are falling short in key areas, including housing, education, homelessness and workforce development programs, is not only wrong, it’s immoral. I would commit to reversing these cuts, so we can fund programs that we need in our communities, and take care of people in a way that reflects the true values of our city. I would have no problem calling out my colleagues on the Council should they choose to help the ultra-wealthy rather than our most vulnerable citizens. And, unlike our current councilmember, I would not vote yes on such shortsighted, immoral policies.

6)    What functions should the Reentry Portal perform?

[The Reentry Portal should serve as a hub where people know they can go to be plugged into needed services and become informed of job, housing and health care opportunities. However, we need to make sure the funding exists on the back end to provide the comprehensive services. Last year, there was $2.3m allocated to the Returning Citizens Portal of Entry; just under half was for case management and transportation. The funding level was not sufficient to provide the wraparound services we need. If we want to truly solve the underlying drivers of incarceration we need to commit to funding that will get the job done.]

a)    Should the Reentry Portal be part of the DC Department of Corrections (DOC) or part of the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens Affairs (MORCA)?

[MORCA.]

b)    Why?

[We should expect close collaboration between DOC and MORCA as a returning citizen gets close to reentry, because coordination of services and identification of needs is critical to ensuring that we are providing the services that are needed. However, I do not think a returning citizen should have to continue to engage with DOC on an ongoing basis after being released, because we do not need to provide social services through our criminal justice system. The goal is to provide needed workforce training and social, health and educational services, and those services should be available in communities throughout the city, as they are for other residents, rather than available only through the DOC. Housing these services outside the DOC also allows for dedicated funding to be provided, and ongoing oversight to be conducted by the Council, to make sure we are allocating the necessary resources and providing returning citizens with the high-quality services they deserve. In addition, an office under direct control of the Mayor should be better able to collaborate directly with existing health, housing, educational and job training programs in DC for which returning citizens are eligible and could benefit from, and address issues related to agencies and departments not providing services as quickly or efficiently as they should be expected to.]

7)    What is the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens Affairs (MORCA) doing well?  

[MORCA is providing critical services that make a real difference, such as structured reentry activities and case management that provides learning opportunities on things like parenting, health literacy, resume and job preparation, computer skills and financial management. These are absolutely essential to ensure returning citizens are able to return to their communities and achieve success.]

a)    What is the MORCA not doing well? 

[The comprehensiveness and availability of services is falling short of what we should expect. The goal should be to provide everyone who needs assistance with assistance. We can realize this goal by demanding that the DC Council provide adequate funding to hire additional case management staff to meet the current demand for services.]

b)    What else should MORCA be doing?

[MORCA should proactively create working relationships on a staff-to-staff level with all key DC agencies providing health, housing, educational, social and job training services, to better integrate existing services into their work, and to ensure that returning citizens are able to fully take advantage of city services. Since we know we currently fall short when it comes to providing housing and other services to returning citizens, this collaboration will allow MORCA to more quickly identify shortcomings that are having a harmful impact on returning citizens, and work to address them quickly.]

8)    What is the Department of Corrections (DOC) doing well?  

[DOC has greatly improved when it comes to commitment to providing health and social services to inmates, and educational and workforce training services as well. While there is additional work to be done and progress to be made, it is encouraging that DOC has identified the need and appreciates the importance of this work.]

a)    What is the DOC not doing well?  

[Because of the condition of the DC Jail, DOC is not providing inmates with the safe environment we should expect our city to provide. Due to lack of funding and lack of functional space, DOC is not providing as many educational and training services to inmates as we should expect. We can address these shortcomings by building a new DC Jail that reflects our shared values in providing safe space for inmates, and opportunities to access treatment and training that will increase the likelihood of success in the community upon release.]

b)    What other functions should the DOC be performing?

[DOC should do more to proactively collaborate with MORCA to identify needs for inmates who will soon be released, so the process to link returning citizens with services can be more automated and less dependent on a returning citizen’s initiative or knowledge of available programs. The more proactive we can be in coordinating and providing services, the more likely we are to set people up for success.]

9)    Do you support the cities ASPIRE to Entrepreneurship Program @ DSLBD?

[Yes. I would like to see funding and outreach increased in order to grow the program so it reaches more people.]

10) The Incarceration to Incorporation Entrepreneurship Program is designed to help returning citizens start their own businesses.  Will you support full funding for this program?

[Yes.]

11) The full name of the NEAR Act is “Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results.”  What aspects of the NEAR Act are being implemented well?

[The opening of the ONSE to begin to address the underlying causes of violence and crime is a very positive step in the right direction. I hope to see the office continue to grow, receive full funding, and increase its reach.]

a)    What aspects of the NEAR Act are not being implemented well?

[We have fallen woefully short when it comes to collection and reporting of the required data elements we should be seeing from MPD, including stop-and-frisk data. Unfortunately, it has become clear that we cannot rely on MPD to comply proactively, and unfortunately, we have not been able to rely on my opponent, Mr. Allen, to use his authority as Chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee to compel MPD to take their obligations under the law seriously and respond in a timely manner.

b)    What changes would you make to the NEAR Act?

[I would start by requiring MPD follow through with their obligations under the current law, so we can begin to see where we are falling short. We need to elect officials who are willing to hold MPD leadership accountable for doing the work they are legally required to do.

12) Reportedly, returning citizens are not getting help from the D.C. Housing Programs when released from prison.

a)    What might you do as a government agent to address such reports?

[If any DC agency is falling short when it comes to providing services to our neighbors, whether they be returning citizens or not, they are falling short of what we demand from them, and should be held accountable. I would commit to demanding regular public hearings, conducting ongoing oversight, and demanding accountability at agencies that are falling short. If DC government leadership clearly understands that the expectation is for them to provide services to everyone who needs them, and that they will be held accountable if they fail to do so, we should be able to increase the feeling of accountability within our government agencies and departments.]

13) What are your plans to expand services for returning citizens coming from BOP facilities?

[Since BOP services vary widely from facility to facility, we cannot rely on those programs to adequately prepare returning citizens for reentry and instead need to proactively involve MORCA to identify people in need of services, and proactively reach out to make sure they are provided. We can improve our ability to do this by increasing funding for case managers, and improving collaboration and coordination between MORCA and DC government agencies and departments.

14) From your viewpoint, what are the biggest obstacles to improving police- community relations be specific – what can be done to overcome them and what could help?

[I believe we lack a level of trust between many citizens and MPD officers. This is particularly true among persons of color and the trans community. Lack of trust makes all of us less safe, citizens and officers alike, so addressing it should be a priority. We should start by providing training to MPD officers so they are able to engage with all of our neighbors appropriately, regardless of language or cultural barriers. We should also encourage officers to engage with neighbors in our community, to build relationships and trust. Only 17 percent of MPD officers live in the District. We should be hiring more officers from our community, and ensuring that they can afford to live in the District. Furthermore, we should be reducing the frequency and amount of police transfers to avoid uprooting officers that have built trust within our community. Finally, we must fully fund and implement the NEAR Act, so we can begin to identify specific issues related to improper targeting and stops that we know are occurring, so we can begin to employ targeted solutions, including additional training as needed.]

15) As a legislator/representative, what would you do to encourage a fairer judicial system; where privilege, money, or race do not prevail?

[We should start by working to make sure privilege, money and race are not impacting our policing, so low-income minority populations are not unfairly targeted and improperly placed within our criminal justice system in the first place. Beyond that, I believe we need to commit to increasing funding for public defender services, so everyone accused of a crime receives legal representation that has the time, energy and skill to competently and effectively represent them in court.]

16) What is your 1 year plan to transition returning citizens to working citizens?

And how would you pay for it? (Looking for specific plan or policy)

[We currently give hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to wealthy developers to build shiny new condo buildings, and because these wealthy developers donate to all of the incumbent DC Councilmembers, they receive this money with no strings attached. They are not required to hire local workers to build these projects, nor are they required to hire local workers to staff the restaurants, hotels and other businesses that eventually open. I believe that needs to stop, and I would immediately move to introduce legislation that would bar any taxpayer subsidies for any projects that do not meet local hiring thresholds. In order to ensure that returning citizens are able to be fairly considered for these jobs, and ultimately hired, I would model a DC tax credit program after the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit, where a business could be eligible for tax relief if they hire local returning citizens, and retain them as an employee for a minimum time period. We can implement these types of progressive policies if we elect leaders who have not been bought and paid for by wealthy developers and business owners.

17) Should the District government ask the Federal government revisit (repeal, modify, amend, or nullify) the National Revitalization Act of 1997?

[Yes. I believe DC should have the ability to control the level and quality of health, educational and social services provided, the condition and location of prison facilities, and the terms of parole for inmates who committed crimes in DC. Too often, we are sending our prison population hundreds of miles away, leaving them isolated and unprepared to reenter their community because they were not provided with necessary social and health services, educational programs or job training. We could be doing more to ensure the success of returning citizens in DC, if given the authority to do so.]

18) Should the district sue MPD for not following the mandate of gathering and reporting contained in the NEAR act?

[Yes. It is unfortunate that we could not count on MPD to comply, and it is equally unfortunate that my opponent, Mr. Allen, chose not to use his authority, as Chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee for the past three years, to demand that they comply. Since we now know we cannot rely on MPD or Mr. Allen to act, it is time for the courts to intervene.]

19) THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR’S MAY ISSUE. Has a comprehensive article on the other failure of civil commitment of Sex Offenders. Would you support the DC Sentencing Commission doing a study of the issue which is in DC?

[Yes.]