Steve Gordon, Project Manager Reentry First-Stop Center for Tarrant County
FORT WORTH, TEXAS – For the thousands of men and women released from incarceration each year, there have been a myriad of barriers standing in the way of their successful reintegration back into society. That is, until now. The Reentry First-Stop Center for Tarrant County, a first-of-its-kind project co-sponsored by the Strategic Reentry Group, LLC, Tarrant County Reentry Coalition, Cornerstone Assistance Network and Tarrant County, has essentially eliminated the three biggest barriers – employment, housing, and transportation – that have historically been the most difficult obstacles facing those with a felony background.
“When people are released from prison, they often face an environment that is challenging and even hostile, which can work against them in their efforts to reintegrate back into the community,” says Steve Gordon, President of Strategic Reentry Group LLC, and also project manager of the Reentry First-Stop Center for Tarrant County, and former State Director of the Oklahoma Partnership for Successful Reentry. “Our goal is to turn what people perceive as public liabilities into responsible, productive, contributing members of society - ‘givers’ instead of ‘takers’. Here at the First-Stop Center, we are doing that every day.”
Using a collaborative approach with several strategic partner agencies, the First-Stop Center has identified more than 100 employers in Tarrant County that are “background-friendly” with jobs ranging in salary from minimum wage to $16.00 per hour. According to Billie Morgan, Assistant Project Manager at the First-Stop Center, “If someone is willing to work, we will help them find employment.”
Once someone has found employment, getting to and from their job can present a big challenge - especially for those whose jobs are not on the regular bus routes. Resolving the transportation barrier helps create one less stressor for the employee allowing them to focus their energies on doing a good job - and that translates to job retention. Working with the trained “transportation navigators” at Tarrant My Ride, neighbors-in-reentry will now be able to receive personalized assistance finding the best transportation options. In some cases, like those who are also veterans or disabled, funds are available to pay for their rides, both to appointments and to work.
Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to successful reentry has been in the area of housing. When individuals are released from prisons and jails, their ability to access safe, secure and affordable housing is critical to their successful reentry to society. Yet even with the implementation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Act, many owners of rental property and landlords are unaware that it is unlawful to discriminate against someone solely on the basis of a criminal background. Sadly, when someone with a criminal background is finally able to find a place to live, the conditions of the property are often deplorable. “There are, regrettably, many property owners and landlords who take unfair advantage of the formerly incarcerated simply because they know how difficult it is for them to find a place to live,” says Monty Sharp, Resource Coordinator at the First-Stop Center. “It is unconscionable that anyone should have to live in substandard housing because of their past.” Now, through a strategic partnership with Urban America, a nation-wide, minority-controlled real estate development and investment company, people who have a criminal background will have the opportunity to find quality, affordable housing.
With these three huge barriers to reentry essentially solved, people with felony backgrounds have a much better opportunity for successful reintegration. “We can’t guarantee that we can make someone successful,” says Gordon, “but we can take away every excuse they have for not being successful.” The ramifications of this breakthrough are not insignificant. These barriers are big contributing factors to recidivism. Eliminating them reduces recidivism and the attending cost, estimated to be about $35,000 per person. Simply redirecting 100 people from returning to prison conservatively saves the tax-paying community $3,500,000.
Steve Gordon sums it up this way, “Strategic Reentry Group is the only consulting firm specializing in community-based reentry solutions staffed ONLY by formerly incarcerated people. We believe that the people best positioned to solve the problems of reentry are those closest to the problem. We believe that if the Reentry First-Stop Center welcomes home to Tarrant County adults returning from prison, provides them with access to a myriad of resources spanning the continuum of related services, and helps them navigate the community, they will be able to self-manage their reentry journey, and – with minimal support – be able to successfully reintegrate back into society, breaking the cycle of crime and recidivism.”
More information on the Tarrant County Reentry Coalition can be found here.
Information on the Strategic Reentry Group can be found here.