Members of Congress hear from justice-impacted individuals

Apr 04, 2022   |  By Quiana Pugh

At CEO, we have a vision that each person returning home from incarceration will have access to a quality job and economic mobility. Even though more than 600,000 individuals return home from incarceration each year, they are largely unable to access our country’s public workforce system and the support needed to focus on employment training during reentry. This past winter, CEO invited federal lawmakers to 9 of our sites to hear directly from justice-impacted experts on needed changes to law to make employment training better.

During these visits, CEO participants shared their stories, and CEO staff explained how daily work and daily pay are critical for individuals returning home to their communities. For example, Representative Rashida Tlaib listened to Detroit participants express how frustrating it can be to obtain a job after completing IT sector training, and then having the job offer withdrawn as a result of a background check. Representative Dwight Evans talked with CEO participants about their ideas to lower gun violence in Philadelphia, and improve food security benefits. In New Orleans, staff for Senator Bill Cassidy heard about how immediate work experience at CEO helped participants build confidence in their skills and identify the career they want to pursue.

In sum, 21 participants gave lawmakers policy ideas and explained their experience navigating reentry, including:

  • How daily pay at a transitional job coupled with vocational training provides a first step to a career pathway;
  • That federal lawmakers should invest in housing and food security so individuals aren’t stressed about basic needs when they want to work and build skills; and
  • How a lack of access to vital documents upon release is a major impediment to getting a job.

After the site visits, I spoke with participants about what it was like to talk to their federal lawmakers and participate in policy advocacy. They relayed that it made them feel listened to and like solutions are attainable, and said it changed how they viewed political figures. Participants were confident and hopeful that Congress was receptive to the problems returning citizens face. Rodney Lemons, of CEO Philadelphia recalls walking into the room with Representative Dwight Evans: “ When I first walked into the room, looking at the congressman, it was my first experience around a lawmaker. I was nervous but when I started talking I felt comfortable; and went into the details of my life and he was asking me questions so I feel like he felt my story and my pain which made me feel good.”

Moving forward, CEO will connect participants directly to lawmakers through advanced training fellowship opportunities, roundtable discussions and campaign advocacy. These platforms are important because lawmakers can gain an understanding from people returning home to hear directly how they are impacted by the justice system.

People in directly impacted communities often have preconceived notions about the political process and whether politicians care about what they think, so it is important to break down those barriers and provide people with the opportunity to speak directly to lawmakers. Channor Lewis out of CEO Detroit’s office said it best, “I believe this is a great experience… because I am a representative of what we’re advocating for and I’m open to more conversations because I’d like to see my input turn into solutions.”

CEO Detroit staff and participants meet with Rep. Rashida Tlaib.