InMarch 2014, the Northeast Region of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) challenged faith-based community partners to join ODRC staff and offenders in strengthening the reintegration of offenders from the prison system to the community. The results of the month-long challenge have already been seen and are expected to expand over time. The Northeast Region recognized the unique ability of faith-based organizations to reach out to offenders and the ways their outreach could be developed further.
"Across the country, state policymakers have recognized for many years the challenges associated with bridging the gap between large state government bureaucracies that want to facilitate prisoner reentry and small nonprofit service providers intimately familiar with the fabric of the communities where services and supports are based," said The Council of State Governments Justice Center in its 2008 publication, Reentry Partnerships: A Guide for States and Faith-Based and Community Organizations. (1)
Prior to the March Faith Challenge, two planning sessions were held: in January 2014, a planning session was held at the Northeast Reintegration Center (NERC), and Cuyahoga Common Pleas Reentry Court Judge Nancy Russo held a follow-up session in her courtroom in February 2014. The planning team participants included Northeast Regional Director Todd lshee, Russo and faith leaders from various communities. In an effort to determine the most suitable methods of assistance, several break-out sessions were held to garner ideas from more than 200 individuals, which included offenders, community members and ODRC staff. One prominent theme was that ODRC is ahead of the curve in many of the programs and partnerships it currently has with faith-based organizations; however, further education is necessary to ensure these are utilized to the full extent. Offender testimonials echoed this sentiment while also noting that further support was needed for success.
The diversity of faith community partners in attendance was overwhelming; members of Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist organizations were involved. Some sessions focused on developing the mission and logo for the Faith Challenge, as well as marketing strategies to reach as many communities as possible. Additional brainstorming sessions discussed involvement of faith-based organizations from orientation through release from prison, and focused on successful reintegration into the community at all stages. Some of the individual break-out sessions were as follows:
Formerly Incarcerated Forum. This session educated faith partners about the experiences of people reentering society and encouraged them to address its challenges. Issues identified included transportation, food...