ADVOCACY THAT PRODUCES RESULTS
The National Reentry Network For Returning Citizens (NRNRC) is in the process of building and developing a nationwide recovery and reintegration platform for individuals returning from periods of incarceration. We are accomplishing this mission through our policy development, continuing advocacy and activism, technology applications, comprehensive job training, innovative programs and community education and outreach efforts. CHANGING THE LANGUAGEFor years, the media and news has played a significant role in dehumanizing people in prison and returning citizens by using harmful language that only serves to undermine the efforts of criminal legal reform. Words like “inmate,” “felon,” “convict,” “ex-felon,” and “ex-convict” are taglines that follow an individual throughout the rest of their lives and perpetuate the notion that the people these terms refer to are evil, dangerous and unable to be rehabilitated. Research has proven that reaction to fear-based media coverage of crime which began to increase in the 1980s and 1990s led to more punitive attitudes that had a powerful influence on mass incarceration. Using certain language to describe people who have committed a felony justified the unjust practices the criminal legal system routinely uses while leading the public to believe that it is in the best interest of public safety to do so. • The NRNRC has successfully lobbied for the name “Returning Citizens” to be used instead of ex-felons. This has given individuals coming home from incarceration a measure of dignity and boost of self-esteem necessary for successful integration into society as well as helping the public to distance themselves from a mindset of seeing formerly incarcerated people as only criminals. • Here at the National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens, we refrain from describing the penal system as the “criminal justice system.” We use the term “criminal legal system” as it is a very biased system, particularly against those of black and brown color and focuses more on punishment than rehabilitation often inflicting unjust sentences that outweigh the crimes themselves.
The National Reentry Network For Returning Citizens uses a three-pronged approach to creating and developing policies to help Returning Citizens in their after-incarceration journey. Given that the NRNRC is strategically located in the Nation's Capital, we are able to tap into a variety of political, economical and social resources to promote our cause.
1) Organizational Competency
Having a professional board and staff who have worked down in the "trenches" on a multitude of Returning Citizen issues has enabled us to be a formidable voice and force for Returning Citizens. Every person on our board and staff is committed in their advocacy of Returning Citizen initiatives and priorities.
2) PolicyMaker Access
Given our close proximity to the political seats and circles of power in the Nation's Capital, we have a unique advantage of gaining the backing and support of both national as well as local political leaders and policymakers.
3) Partnerships and Affiliations
Over the course of many years, we have partnered with and become affiliated with with a lot of different companies, cooperations, social organizations, government organizations and civic groups. Currently we are actively partnering and affiliating with over 40 different entities.
NRNRC's advocacy platform focuses on raising the public's level of consciousness to the plight of Returning Citizens. We want to level the playing field for Returning Citizens so that they have every opportunity to succeed as any other member of society. Our priorities in this include but not limited to:
- Promoting and documenting the success stories of formerly incarcerated individuals who are now succeeding in their comebacks.
- Using social media and other mass information distribution channels to remind the public that Returning Citizens are citizens too and deserve respectful treatment.
- Getting the public to donate time, energy and money to the cause of aiding and assisting Returning Citizens struggling to make it back to a normal way of life.
- Forming partnerships and affiliations with community and civic organizations that can collaboratively make a difference in the lives of Returning Citizens.
- Getting the backing and support of national and local political leaders and policymakers who can influence Returning Citizen entitlements, rights and priviledges
- Massing the political, economic and social power of affinity groups who can keep the plight of Returning Citizens a prominent issue.
- Creating unbeatable mindsets within formerly incarcerated individuals through counseling, mentoring and motivational training
- Giving formerly incarcerated persons the opportunity to increase their general education and knowledge levels to contend with an ever-changing world.
- Providing basic sustainment services (i.e. food, clothing, shelter) to the recently released so that they don't slide back into recidivism.
The National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens Has been successful in the following:
- Fair Criminal Record Screening Act (Ban The Box): The NRNRC has been involved in legislation to restrict employers from screening job applicants based on applicants’ criminal history. This has been done by removing the question of whether or not an applicant has ever been incarcerated from job applications.
- “Direct File” Redefinition of the Child Amendment Act: Members of the NRNRC along with partner advocates at the DC Justice Lab testified before DC Ward 6 Councilmember and the U.S. Attorney General regarding the Redefinition of the Child Amendment Act of 2021, redefining childhood in the District in a way that would start all cases involving children who are charged with a criminal code violation in juvenile court.
- Courtney Stewart, Chairman and CEO of NRNRC has been engaged in meeting with the DC Clemency Board in efforts to get more applicants convicted of DC Code offenses to get approved and get the process expedited more efficiently by circumventing the Office of the Pardon Attorney and go straight to the Department of Justice and the White House. He has also successfully pushed to get the DC Clemency Board to place a returning citizen on the board and he himself has been nominated for that position.
- Partnering with DC Justice Lab, the NRNRC is involved in implementing the RESTORE Act which obtains relief for returning citizens by supporting criminal record sealing and expungement, thus removing barriers that make it difficult for returning citizens to obtain stable housing and employment.
- The NRNRC is petitioning the Mayor and DC Councilmembers to reinstate a DC Parole Board that will result in DC Code violators coming home sooner and possibly not having to be placed on supervised release which is in effect a second sentence.
- The NRNRC is building a coalition of returning citizens to be advocates to address issues and barriers that effect not only individuals who are coming home from incarceration but also the individuals who are still locked up. Courtney Stewart as well as staff members have been engaged in hearings with Councilmembers to enact policy changes to benefit returning citizens.
An intensive and holistic 4-week program of job readiness and job placement. This learning environment focuses on ways of thinking such as emotional intelligence, appropriate workplace behavior, cognitive behavior modification techniques, conflict resolution/mediation and so many more advanced concepts. Upon graduation from this program, Returning Citizens are well-prepared to return to working life and thrive.
Peer Navigator Program
A comprehensive mentoring program wherein the Mentor and the Mentee (Returning Citizen) establish a formal and mutually agreed upon relationship with clear goals and objectives. The main objective is to direct and guide the Returning Citizen toward stability, a change of behavior and a change in thinking. The Returning Citizen receives his or her mentor's guidance over a set period of time with the endstate being the Returned Citizen's successful reintegration back into society.
Reentry Housing Initiative
The National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens in partnership with SOME ( So Others Might Eat) is now providing transitional housing accommodations to recently released DC Returning Citizens. The purpose of this housing program is to ease and to smooth the transition of DC Returning Citizens back into society and their communities. This Housing Reentry Initiative will assist Returning Citizens with stable housing, employment, and a variety of the other programs offered by The National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens