A New Future for Boston’s Reentry Services
Kimberly M. Rhoten (they/them/theirs) is a 2022 Summer Fellow with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, working with the Office of Returning Citizens to explore how Boston might expand the Office’s staffing, programmatic, and institutional capacity to better serve Boston’s incarceration-impacted residents.
Though the future isn’t certain (and the City’s budget isn’t yet finalized), we can still expect some exciting developments at the Office of Returning Citizens in the coming year.
Introduction to the Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens
Each year, over 3,000 people return to the City of Boston from prison or jail. Most return without a safe place to live, a change of clothes, or easy access to food. A criminal background acts as a substantial barrier to locating housing and employment for many returning citizens, especially within their first six to twelve months post-release. The City of Boston’s Office of Returning Citizens acts as a crucial resource for this vulnerable population, offering case management services and support as well as referrals to Boston’s resource rich non-profit landscape. Each year the ORC sees approximately 1 in 10 of all returning citizens coming home to Boston.
Robert Turner, the Program Coordinator of the Office of Returning Citizens, believes deeply in the city’s mission of assisting Boston’s returning residents.
“The ORC’s work matters because when people are released from incarceration, they need resources to help them get stabilized…They have been ostracized, marginalized, and feel rejected. The ORC meets people where they are at. We understand that even though you may have made some bad choices, it should not define who you are. It’s what you did and it’s not who you are. I believe that every being deserves a second chance.” — Robert Turner
Despite a tight budget and a small staff (of only two!), this Office has offered exceptional care and services to Boston’s returning citizens since its inception in 2017 under Mayor Walsh. And, it’s likely that the ORC will see some exciting changes in the next couple of years.
Potential New Directions for the Office of Returning Citizens
Boston’s City Council and Mayor Michelle Wu have both put forward proposals to increase the ORC’s budget in order to better serve Boston’s incarceration-impacted residents. With additional funding and staffing capacity, the ORC’s future could hold bright new possibilities, including: scaling up key inter-agency partnerships, increased staffing, transportation assistance, financial assistance to acquire state ID and birth certificates, staff-led employment searches, and even a possible housing pilot program. With additional capacity, the ORC could also consider working with the State and City Vital records department to make accessing birth records easier and cheaper for incarceration-impacted residents. According to Rupert Saunders, the ORC’s Placement Specialist and Digital Intake Coordinator, “Most of our clients can’t even afford to get to their case management appointments, and now, with increased funding, we can afford to provide returning citizens with bus passes and other assistance to make sure they get where they need to be.”
Further, for the first time since its inception, the Office can dream of creating innovative housing and financial assistance programs for residents recently returning from incarceration, such as universal basic income or temporary housing immediately following release to keep incarceration-impacted residents off the streets and moving towards stability. With deeper City investment, the ORC can provide for returning citizens’ immediate vital needs while simultaneously working to help them reach long-term stability goals.
Kimberly (they/them) is an attorney, academic, and advocate. They are a repeat MONUM Fellow and thrilled to be back! As a Sociology PhD student at Boston University, their research interests include the legal treatment of non-traditional families and non-monogamous sexualities as well as the structural inequities of mass incarceration. Before starting their PhD, Kimberly worked on a wide variety of social justice and public service projects including housing insecurity, digital privacy, and food access. When they are not in the office, chances are you’ll find Kimberly on a deep-sea fishing boat in Gloucester or exploring the haunted happenings of Salem.
About the Fellowship:
The New Urban Mechanics Summer Fellowship is designed for entrepreneurial students and professionals interested in working in public service. During this highly selective eight-week program, summer fellows work as a team and on their own projects, generating and implementing creative and thoughtful new prototypes to benefit the City of Boston.