Our Neighbors: Returning Citizens

As of 2015, more than 23,000 individuals in the DMV area are returning citizens, or previously incarcerated people. In Maryland, 4,411 men and women are returning citizens. In addition, Virginia has more than 12,000 returning citizens, including more than 500 juveniles.

These returning citizens face many barriers, including homelessness and joblessness. In our nation’s capital, these problems are often compounded with additional challenges, such as finding affordable housing, employment, and equitable access to health care.

Affordable housing is a common problem faced by returning citizens in DC. Often, 90 days into reentry, 22% of employed returning citizens, 32% of unemployed returning citizens, and 38% of unemployable returning citizens face housing instability. D.C. is often ranked as one of the most expensive cities for housing in the U.S. Public housing options are extremely limited, complicating returning citizens’ search for stable, long-term housing. As a result, many returning citizens face homelessness.

Employment is a major difficulty for returning citizens. In 2015, 71% of employable returning citizens said that they were unemployed. In 2012, more than half of job openings in D.C. required a college degree, a 10% higher rate than other metro areas. Many returning citizens may have little or no savings or income upon their return.

Health care access, for both physical and psychological needs, is another challenge faced by returning citizens. Although locally incarcerated individuals have access to medical assistance and are able to renew it while serving their sentences, individuals part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ custody can’t renew this coverage before their return, which causes gaps in health care access. Many returning citizens are more likely to have asthma, arthritis, or hypertension. In addition, 12.4% of unemployed returning citizens report having depression.

Despite these major difficulties for returning citizens, there are several organizations in the region that are designed to help returning citizens. The Montgomery County Pre-Release Center, the D.C. Department of Employment Services, Free Minds Book Club, National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens, and the D.C. Reentry Task Force are a few resources for returning citizens.

The Montgomery County Pre-Release Center is a group, focusing on helping returning citizens secure and keep employment. The D.C. Department of Employment Services assists returning citizens in the process of re-entry. The Free Minds Book Club uses the written word, including holding poetry and prose writing sessions, as an aid for returning citizens. The National Re-entry Network for Returning Citizens and the D.C. Reentry Task Force work with nonprofit organizations and returning citizens to collaborate on ways to support and advocate for returning citizens in DC. Additionally, Samaritan Ministry Next Stepprogram offers many services, such as obtaining identification, resume writing, and job readiness training (STRIVE), to returning citizens.

Although returning citizens face many obstacles in their reentry, ranging from housing, the job market, to healthcare, many returning citizens are able to live their lives to the fullest!