Crime is a serious problem in Washington, DC, but so is punishment. As of 2010, nearly 5% of the District’s population was incarcerated, on probation, or on parole – a percentage higher than those in 48 of America’s 50 states. The costs of crime are both human and monetary; each incarcerated adult costs our city $46,000 per year.
Imprisoned DC residents disproportionately represent marginalized populations. As of January 2011, 90% of all DC inmates identified themselves as African-American while 89% of all male inmates reported achieving no education beyond high school. And the effects of ex-offender poverty reverberate through the lives of others, as the children of ex-offenders suffer serious, long-term consequences from their parents’ inability to find adequate employment after leaving prison.
Why does DC Central Kitchen care about the prison population? Because 60,000 District residents have criminal records and economic hardship among ex-offenders is a primary driver of recidivism (re-offending and returning to jail). While 8,000 men and women return to the city each year from prison, half of these returning citizens will be back behind bars within three years. After these individuals have paid their debts to society, they struggle to find work; barely 50% of DC’s parolee population is employed.
And though the number of ex-offenders enrolling in our program has risen considerably in the last four years, this spike does not mean we’re training fewer men and women who have struggled with homelessness than in years past.
Waves of returning citizens are critical drivers in the rising tide of homelessness in DC. We’re not choosing to serve ex-offenders over homeless adults; instead, we’re serving them both, and serving them better.
We are working to break the cycle of poverty, homelessness, and prison. We enroll ex-offenders in our Culinary Job Training program after they pass through a rigorous intake procedure that evaluates their readiness for our services, their commitment to beginning a new career, and the nature of their prior offenses (we do not admit anyone with a history of crimes against children).
Our curriculum’s unique blend of ‘knife skills and life skills’ offers valuable vocational training along with intense self-empowerment coaching that forces trainees to take hard looks at their past, present, and future choices.
Our approach is working for the 75% of CJT graduates with criminal records. While recidivism ranges between 45% and 68% nationwide, just 2% of our trainees re-offend. Our success in putting ex-offenders back to work saves our city more than $2,000,000 in prison costs each year, while these men and women find jobs, support themselves, and pay $200,000 in payroll taxes annually.
“Court Council Urges City to Hire Ex-Offenders,” Washington Informer, November 24.
Pew Center on the States, State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons (Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts, April 2011)