Faith-Based Program Helps Rehabilitate Offenders

Rev. Yvonne Cooper admits to making some bad decisions. A former administrative law judge, she was indicted and arrested for accepting bribes, but Cooper believes that her past won’t define the rest of her life.

“I’m trying my level best to get people … away from calling people ex-offenders,” Cooper said, “basically because all of us have done something we ought not have done.”

Cooper faced 105 years in prison, but only served eight months. Upon her release, Cooper said that didn’t need help transitioning into society, because of her “status personally and professionally.” But for those who do, many faith-based offender reentry programs have been the stepping stones for a smooth and successful reentry into the community, like Cooper’s Previously Incarcerated Persons Organization.

“I am of the firm belief that because I have been-there-done-that I am uniquely qualified to address the concerns of this unique population,” Cooper said.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, two-thirds of offenders are rearrested within three years. PIP is one of many organizations that address the needs of the reported nearly 2,000 offenders released from prison in the District each year. Needs that, according to the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), might include substance abuse, housing, and healthcare issues and finding a job.

“CSOSA believes that volunteers from faith-based institutions can provide the support necessary to provide successful offender reintegration,” said Leonard Snipes, CSOSA Senior Public Affairs Specialist.

CSOSA is a federal agency providing parole and probation services to Washington, D.C. Since CSOSA began its faith-based initiative in 2002, 94 faith institutions have become certified mentor centers. Unlike regular reentry programs, faith-based programs are housed at churches, mosques and synagogues. Program participants are not required to conform to the religious beliefs

“There are an array of offenders who state that the faith-based volunteer made a significant contribution to their crime-free lifestyle,” Sipes said of the mentors assigned to each participant.

Like with the recent concern surrounding the release of thousands of crack offenders under new sentencing guidelines, offenders’ reentry into society is a public safety issue. CSOSA’s initiative to rehabilitate ex-offenders also comes in the form of surveillance drug testing, high level of contact, drug treatment and Vocational Opportunities Training, Education and Employment Services.

According to its Web site, CSOSA uses a program model that incorporates a number of “innovative strategies emphasizing offender accountability and opportunity to develop the skills and resources that support crime and drug-free behavior.”

“The [faith-based program] helps turns offenders into law abiding citizens,” said Sipes, “who end up supporting their families and making their communities safer.