Updated: Mar 30
Today we reflect on our conversation about the Pivot and Prison Scholars Program with a special guest: Tyrone Walker, Director of Reentry at Georgetown University Pivot and Prison Scholars Program. Mr. Walker did not mince words when he talked about transforming prison cells into thought spaces where the emphasis is on conversation and thoughtfulness.
While he elaborated on the programs, the previously incarcerated Walker, now the Director of Reentry, emphasized the importance of empowering students to build self-confidence by allowing the discussion to grow naturally. Mr. Walker also mentioned that high school students on the outside have the mutual opportunity to support and aid the advancement of their incarcerated peers in their college studies.
Walker says their program divides into the Prison Scholars Program and the Pivot Program. The Washington, DC treatment center offers this rehabilitation program where participants have the opportunity to take classes in Philosophy, English, Business, and Writing from Georgetown University faculty through the Prison Scholars initiative. Walker describes the program as "Coming down from the hilltop and meeting people where they are and putting them inline”.
The transition from learning to implementing
Some prisoners are fortunate enough to get into the pivot program after completing their course credits within the Prison Scholars program.
Georgetown University also offers previously incarcerated people the Pivot Program (upon completion of Prison Scholars), which combines entrepreneurship and internships. It is a 10-month to a year-long program in which students learn: Philosophy, English, Business, and Writing skills from credit-earning courses.
In our final February Black-History-Month*-show, he made it clear that DC is the only place where these programs run. Both programs are available at the two centers in Washington, DC: the Treatment Center and the Detention Center. Walker further mentioned some of the partners who make the program a reality:
Deloit, the Justice Policy Institute, Dick Sporting Goods, and Starbucks are partnerships that make this program a success. He emphasized that these are examples of companies and organizations that open their doors to being a part of the reentry of the incarcerated.
"Coming down from the hilltop and meeting people where they are and putting them inline”.
This show taught us that determination 'spreads our wings' regardless of circumstances. Walker added that some past program participants became managers at companies like Starbucks. The aforementioned demonstrates that everyone has the power to rise from their situation and restore justice to the community and themselves.
Walker says he is also a Cohort 1 graduate of the Pivot Program.
He mentioned that one of the well-read professors approached him years back and asked whether he, Walker, was willing to earn an income while gaining an education at Georgetown University as a previously incarcerated person. Mr. Walker says "he never heard of such an opportunity" and grabbed it without question. He soon embarked on the Program six days after his release from prison. Walker then took on his internship with the Justice Policy Institute coming from the Georgetown University learning and unlearning process.
Now a director of the reentry, Mr. Walker gives props to his professor, who taught him to find the weaknesses of a business, to (metaphorically) 'pull the business apart and rebuild it'. He consequently began to adapt his ideas into concepts on paper that are conceivable business initiatives.
Changing the status quo
Conceptualizing how the DC government could take better action about previously incarcerated persons during his internship, Walker landed his program host, the Justice Policy Institute, a grant to continue hosting more people like him.
The change he has affected is promoting visibility and prioritizing previously incarcerated people for reentry with a smoother transition.
Bringing matters home
According to the findings of Gcobani Ndike's University of Fort Hare Master of Social
Work (MSW) dissertation in 2008, Reintegration of Ex-offenders on
Community: In a case study of Whittlesea Township in Lukhanji Municipality the most significant obstacles to successful rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders into society are the unfavorable socioeconomic situations they encounter after their release. Ndike. (2014), Reintegrate Of ex-offenders on community: A case study of Whittlesea Township in Lukhanji Municipality, http://libdspace.ufh.ac.za/, Retrieved from Reintegrate Of ex-offenders on community: A case study of Whittlesea Township in Lukhanji Municipality (links are external)
The stigma of being incarcerated and the necessity for employment, food, and shelter are just some of the problems that former inmates confront when they return to society. Following their release from prison, the community is wary about reintegrating convicted criminals back into society. As a result of this social stigma, ex-offenders frequently have difficulty finding employment, potentially ending in family dissolution.
There are numerous rehabilitation programs that inmates participate in while behind bars. These efforts need maintenance and assessments following release from jail or prison. Without this support, recidivism is likely.
Even though the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) offers a variety of rehabilitation programs for inmates, it is apparent that these efforts are not always available upon release.
In 2017, Victor Chikadzi, an associate professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, wrote that “...criminal offender rehabilitation and reintegration are considered vital components of an effective crime-fighting strategy.” Research shows, however, that upon release from prison, ex-offenders in South Africa face many challenges that weaken their chances of reform and predispose them to recidivism. Chikazdi. (2017) Social work.journals.ac.za,
Chikadzi discusses in the aforementioned publication the challenges faced by ex-offenders as they reintegrate into mainstream society in Gauteng, South Africa (SA), siting primary data from a qualitative study. The findings show that ex-offenders struggle to adjust because of broken family and community relationships, unemployment, and lack of after-care services.
Around the world, there are fewer studies focused on offender reintegration. In SA, the literature regarding offender reintegration and rehabilitation is scarce. As part of crime prevention and reduction strategy, Chikadzi continues to elaborate that such a body of knowledge is critical in support of offenders and society. The burgeoning prison population has resulted in overcrowding in many prisons in SA.
The status quo in South Africa has not changed much given the account of the aforementioned sources. Casper Lӧtter who is a research fellow, at North-West University wrote“...the idea of hiring former convicts or ex-offenders as prison wardens are catching on everywhere. Following recent departmental budget cuts in South Africa, this idea has gained traction.” Lӧtter. (2021) TheConversation.com. Ex-offenders should be made prison wardens in South Africa. Here’s why
Years of prison violence and staff shortages haunt Departments of Corrections. Recidivism is at an all-time high, with limited solutions to combat the issue. Society treating ex-offenders better might help them fulfill work requirements, thus reducing recidivism.
Norms of shame
The United States and SA label and stigmatize the incarcerated and are pushed to the margins of society. Beyond societal norms, they are tempted into joining criminal gangs and criminal mischief. Fortunately, some cultures like the Chinese in the late 1900s and the Japanese in the early 2000s have supported reintegration. These cultures focus on their similarities with the formerly incarcerated rather than their differences.
Free, unbiased, and scientific news
Ex-offenders who are stigmatized and shamed are more likely to re-offend and/or re-injure writes Lӧtter. In the US, it's 66%. Although difficult to assess, the range in SA is reportedly 86-94%. China had one of the world's most integrated shame cultures around the turn of the century, with a re-offending rate of 6-8%. Appointing ex-offenders as prison wardens not only improves prison management but also gives them a source of income. It also provides positive role models with whom inmates can identify and share their life experiences. Lӧtter. (2021)
In conclusion, this episode and our guest's experiences embody our hopes of justice and social change. Catch the episode if you missed it! Prison Scholar to Director of Reentry Services: Georgetown University S5E4
*Black History Month is officially is recognized by governments in the United States and Canada. It was also recently celebrated in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
The Justice Beat Talk Show airs on Saturdays and covers issues of inclusive justice that affect the incarcerated, their family, and friends.