--Dr. Geoffrey Johnson, Executive Director, DC Project Connect
Reforms in criminal justice are now trying to address the gap in institutional care for young adults. Such is the case at the D.C. Jail. Research has confirmed that young men’s brain development continues into their mid-twenties. This nuance certainly affects maturity and decision-making. DOC recognized that it could benefit from additional programming for jail residents in this age group.
This past Spring (2022), a member of the D.C. Jail’s YME program reached out to DC Project Connect to determine if we were a good fit for their program initiatives. We offered our unique programming that focuses on building relationships with children, family members, and increasing self-awareness. The program is affectionately referred to as “DCPC Bibliotherapy-based Reading Circles.” In preparation for this task, DCPC determined that in 2018, the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) launched the YME program to address the special needs of young adult, aged 18 to 25, which accounts for a quarter to a third of its transient inmate population. DOC’s YME initiative is in concert with city’s Youth Rehabilitation Act which was introduced to provide specialized programming based on principles of positive youth development and restorative justice approaches and practices.
A cornerstone of Young Men Emerging (YME) in other prison facilities has been the mentoring of emerging adults by older residents. With regard to the D.C. Jail, the Justice Policy Institute reported that a group of individuals returning from Federal Bureau of Prison facilities, having each served over 20 years, were selected as the original mentors for the YME program. Their commitment and compassion apparently surpassed DOC staff expectations, and contributed to the formation of a specialized corrections unit at the Jail. DCPC will provide a train-the-trainer approach that can seamlessly be integrated in YME’s mentoring efforts.
Using our Reading Circle program, DCPC will work closely YME mentors and DOC to enhance bonding skills and develop emotional competencies. Almost 50 percent of those in prison have a minor child. As such, Reading Circles are designed to focus on the development of social and emotional skills for communication and interacting with children and family members. With the coordination of DOC and YME, DCPC addresses the following issues:
YME mentors have proven to be an asset that was essentially void to DOC staff. However, older residents do not often serve long sentences at the jail. We need strategies to maintain institutional knowledge;
There is a constant flow in and out of the Jail. Many residents are awaiting trails and sentencing while a significant number of other residents are returning from time spent in FBOP facilities. Can a system be developed for emerging adults to be mentored about expectations and navigating the criminal justice system, as well as successful reentry?
Since the closing of the Lorton prison facility in the late 1990s, D.C. residents sentenced over 12 months are placed in the custody of the FBOP and serve time in prison facilities located across the country. Family reunification is the heart and soul of DCPC’s advocacy, however, maintaining family and community ties is extraordinarily difficult for incarcerated citizens.
About the Author: Dr. Geoffrey Johnson is the executive director of DC Project Connect. He has authored children's books, and publications for family members with incarcerated loved ones. He has previous experience facilitating Reading Circles at the DC Jail.