By Janey Tate (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Returning citizens and their rights were front and center at the recent National Black Chamber of Commerce symposium. The event, titled South Florida’s Criminal Justice and Rehabilitation Symposium, was geared toward prison reform and how to best acclimate returning citizens to everyday life outside of prison.
The symposium kicked off on Nov. 13 with a tour of South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach County. Attendees were able to tour the correctional facility and ask questions about the treatment of inmates while there. Riviera Beach Mayor Ronnie Felder attended the tour and said the visit changed his perspective on the prison. After the tour attendees returned to the hotel for panel discussions on prison reform and how to reduce recidivism.
Felder was also a panelist during the symposium alongside Riviera Beach Spray Technician and returning citizen Oswald Newbold. He said that he and Felder speak about real issues that inmates and ex-felons face. He credits the Mayor for implementing “Ban the Box” that makes it easier for ex-felons to get employed. “Ban the Box” is an initiative that asks employers to not ask applicants to disclose their criminal history on job applications. Riviera Beach is one of the cities that initiate this.
“It doesn’t guarantee that that guy will get a job, but it does allow us to get pass that first step in the interview process,” said Newbold, who’s also a Peer Mentor for GEO.
He went on to explain how creating opportunities for inmates and ex-felons helps to reduce recidivism. Said self-improvement programs helped him to grow the most.
“Once I started taking advantage of the opportunities other ideas and possibilities in life started to open up to me,” said Newbold. “You can give a person all the programs in the world but if he doesn’t work on himself, he’ll find a way to mess it up.”
The event gave the perspective on many who work within the prison industry and with returning citizens once they are released. The consensus from all the panelists was that inmates need opportunities to get an education and learn new skills while they are incarcerated. They also agreed that reducing recidivism will have to include the job market being more compassionate to returning citizens who desperately want the opportunity to work legally.
President and co-founder of the NBCC Harry Alford said he started doing this sympousm because helping ex-felons and people in trouble has always been a passion of his. He said the organization plans to do 6 more events like this in different cities until everyone understands that we should treat returning citizens with human decency.
“It’s been my personal passion since I’ve come out of high school to work with people who were being incarcerated or in trouble with the law. For some reason it’s always been a passion of mine,” said Alford.
He wanted people to walk away from the symposium having learned more about the prison system and proper ways to rehabilitate inmates.
“They should explore rehabilitation and see it as a cure for what ails our society,” said Alford. “Were going to do six of these a year until we have the whole nation rocking and rolling.”
For more information on the NBCC and Project Rebound, visit nationalbcc.org