This morning, in the press room at Dallas Police Department headquarters, a cadre of video cameras recorded the ceremony to induct Charles Terrell as Dallas' first-ever "re-entry czar." In his introduction, Mayor Tom Leppert described Terrell's new position as one "designed to look at the big picture" -- of crime, repeat offenders and recidivism. No small task, in other words.
Of the 400 to 600 parolees released from Texas prisons each month, two-thirds of them will be rearrested within three years, Leppert said, and "we cannot just send these ex-offenders back into the community and hope for the best." As re-entry czar, Terrell's major responsibility will be heading up the city's new pilot program -- Dallas One-stop Optimized Re-entry System, or DOORS -- which was originally created by Terrell's nonprofit, Safer Dallas, Better Dallas.
DOORS, said Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Elba Garcia during the press conference, "will be the umbrella that will provide important social services and support to our ex-offenders, to improve the odds that no one falls through the cracks."
Though Terrell will be the liaison between city and county officials, law enforcement, nonprofits and, as Leppert repeatedly emphasized, the business community, his man on the ground and chief operating officer will be Operation Oasis director Edgar Michael Lee, who spoke with Unfair Park after the press conference to explain how the whole thing is expected to work.
"In June," Lee says "we're going to call all the partners together and invite the community so we can actually get into the programming of DOORS [and] so people can understand that it's not just displacing the good people doing good work, but we're going to actually stand on their shoulders."
Those partners? DOORS plans to start its operations -- mentoring, community college, evaluation, tracking and support, according to Terrell -- at seven "one-stop" centers around Dallas, including Operation Oasis, El Centro College's Bill J. Priest Institute, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, Mothers (Fathers) for the Advancement of Social Systems Inc., the Wilkinson Center and Builders of Hope, all of which are currently working with ex-offenders in some capacity.
Lee stresses that these are just starter sites, and that he hopes the program will expand across the city in order to help parolees get on their feet and prevent recidivism. DOORS has already secured a $440,000, three-year grant from the Communities Foundation of North Texas and, Terrell says, has applied for federal Second Chance Act funding.
Despite the obvious challenges that come with starting an ambitious crime-prevention program in a recession, Lee is nonetheless upbeat: "I think it's actually a good time," he insists, "because President Obama is pushing jobs -- and not to the exclusion of formerly incarcerated." As DOORS gains traction, he adds, ex-offenders will not only have the skills to get jobs, but will also look more promising to potential employers.
Terrell, however, is less sanguine about financial obstacles. "This is the worst possible time," the new czar tells Unfair Park, "but that doesn't mean that we should not be out doing what we're doing. We're going to have to just scratch and claw."
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