Community Voices

Returning Citizens

DC Health held two engagement sessions in early 2020 for returning citizens with about 22 participants in all. The sessions were designed to be safe spaces to come together to have honest discussions about this community’s strengths, challenges, and possible solutions. Facilitators asked the groups what was happening in the lives of returning citizens, including identifying their top concerns, service gaps, and what they see as the strengths of their community.

Concerns

Housing and employment were top among several concerns. Returning citizens are often released from jail with limited or no options for affordable housing. This presents an added difficulty for mothers who are retaking custody or working to regain custody of their children. Participants also emphasized the importance of reestablishing a sense of purpose when they are released. They want to provide for themselves and their family. Job training and vocational programs are often geared toward men, noted the women, who mentioned the need for job opportunities that fit their interests, which are often not considered. Mental wellness was another concern, and participants wanted more community resources that provide mental wellness and social support services; healing from trauma, managing stress, and balancing life can be overwhelming after release.

Strengths

Strengths discussed in the group included:

  • Resilience – The ability to overcome the challenges of each day.  
  • Family support (for some but not all).
  • Spirituality/faith – Relying on a higher power for hope, inspiration, and motivation to keep moving forward.

Opportunities

Participants discussed several possible ways to support returning citizens:

  • Create a peer and community health worker program to provide support and assistance with navigating social services and the healthcare system after release.
  • Develop support groups for returning citizens so they have an outlet to express and process their feelings.
  • Engage in pre-release planning to assist with the coordination of services after release.
  • Expand mental wellness services that include traditional talk therapy as well as other forms such as yoga, life coaching, and mindfulness, etc.
  • Develop services that provide additional support for returning women with children, such as child care, housing, and transportation.
  • Create more employment opportunities and professional development programs.
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