by Dr. Geoffrey Johnson
DC Project Connect oftentimes receives requests for assistance from family members of the incarcerated or persons who are currently serving time in prison or jail. In my role as executive director, I often respond to telephone inquiries, email requests, and written correspondence. I recently responded to a constituent’s request for housing information. I pondered the daunting task of returning citizens having to manage a successful return to the nation’s capital after spending more than 25 years in prison. In addition to acquiring housing, finding employment, obtaining vital records, and attending to health needs, returning citizens also need countless tutorials on technology updates occurring since their incarceration and especially on how to use cell phones. Whereas 10 to 15 years ago, applying for a job online may have been an optional convenience, today this is standard or required practice.
The reality of being computer literate is akin to people who wanted to keep using a typewriter rather than transition to a computer. In truth, in addition to applying for jobs, you can’t walk outside and hail a taxi, set up medical appointments, or in some cases, report to your parole officer without using a phone, the right apps, and having the knowledge of how to use real-time technology.
According to D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) facts and figures (2022), in FY2021, over 3,100 residents were released. It is unknown whether these statistics account for men and women returning to the city from the Federal Bureau of Prison facilities.
However, the D.C. government has recently established technology workshops to help residents who are 65 and over. The Office of the Chief Technology offers virtual and in-place community outreach events to assist seniors who are challenged by the internet, cell phones, and emerging technology. The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) recognized that there are misconceptions about smart devices and technology that keeps affected populations, especially seniors, disconnected. It is unclear how well CTO's services are known to city residents or if their workshops are advertised in a manner that reaches returned citizens.
There is a bit of good news. The Department of Aging and Community Living (DACL) partnered with CTO and local nonprofit organizations to provide iPads to seniors. DC Project Connect’s hallmark is partnering with organizations to accomplish its advocacy goals. Therefore, I contacted the CTO to see if additional partnerships can be made with the Mayor’s Office of Returned Citizens Affairs, DOC’s Ready Center, and others, to specifically provide assistance for persons returning home from prison who lack needed technological knowledge and cell phones. I spoke with Mr. Adrian Sutton, CTO Outreach Coordinator, and he was encouraged by my call. I recommended that he contact the Mayor’s Office for Returning Citizens Affairs (MORCA) to determine if there were synergies in supporting returned citizens. Mr. Sutton, in turn, indicated that he would reach out to MORCA about this matter. On behalf of DC Project Connect, I also reached out to MORCA’s Director Lamont Carrey in an effort to pair the two organizations. Both agencies were open to this concept and process.
If you know of a returning citizen in need of technology support|Contact: Mr. Adrian Sutton, Outreach Coordinator, Office of Chief Technology Officer, (202) 826-3436. Contact Director Lamont Carrey, MORCA, regarding assistance for returning citizens. Contact DC Project Connect if you need support connecting with these sources. (email@example.com).