ORCA works directly with returning citizens and also “trains the trainer,” helping organizations and programs working with returning citizens better address the needs of this vulnerable population. DC’s ORCA is the only legislatively-mandated re-integration program in the U.S., Thorton explained, noting that he regularly travels to share DC’s experience with other parts of the country.
Thornton began with sobering statistics about the state of literacy and job-readiness among adults in DC, generally, and particularly among the population returning from prison:
- The District has 90,000 residents with low literacy and 64,000 with no high school or GED
- Another 90,000 have a high school diploma but no post-secondary education or training
- Many living-wage jobs, and 71% of ALL jobs in the District require post-secondary education
- Pell grants are no longer available to incarcerated individuals aiming for college degrees
- In a city of some 630,000 residents, DC is home to 70,000 individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system, 70% of whom have low literacy
- 5,000 citizens return to DC from prison every year
Ward 8, where We Act Radio‘s studio is located, is home to the largest number of returning citizens, Thornton added. So, programs like the new SouthEast Welding Academy, are of great importance in offering marketable skill-sets to this population and to the many other adults seeking employment.
In addition to education, returning citizens require wrap-around services, Thornton stresses. In particular, many need mental health services, having suffered trauma before or during incarceration.
Another concern, for employment reasons among others, is digital literacy. Thornton agreed to return to We Act Radio to explore this topic. Meanwhile: current opportunities for computer training in DC and about DC’s Digital Inclusion effort.
More to come on a future edition of the Education Town Hall!!
The Education Town Hall is broadcast Thursdays at 11 a.m. (Eastern) on We Act Radio.
Listen on-line at We Act Radio
In the DC Metro Area: WPWC 1480 AM
Full recordings are archived for later discussion and sharing.