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Newcomer's Guide; OAR Creates Second Chances

Ex-offenders contribute $1 million in community services.

What happens when a community member in Arlington or Falls Church is assigned community service instead of being sent to jail? The judge tells the defendant to go to OAR.

Over the past year, 1,733 ex-offenders who are clients of Offender Aid and Restoration of Arlington County completed 75,000 hours of community service because they were court-mandated to provide the service, they wanted to work off their court fees, or they wanted to demonstrate to the judge their willingness to give back to the community.

During OAR’s fiscal year ending June 30, OAR community service clients performed a record $1,081,351 worth of services — an increase of 14 percent over the previous year.

OAR also provides ex-offenders with coaching and practical information about finding employment, managing money, and developing important career and life skills. This assistance has helped thousands of ex-offenders to have a second chance in the workplace and in their families.

OAR works with the courts in Arlington County and the City of Falls Church to assist clients in the completion of court-mandated community service hours. The success rate for clients finishing their community service hours was 90.3 percent.

Heather Pritchett, OAR’s director of community service and special projects, said, “Community service is a cost-saving way to hold people accountable while benefiting the community. These clients work at various non-profits, faith-based organizations and government agencies in our community. They also help staff many of the community events throughout the year.”

Pritchett cited one client who within hours of his initial meeting at OAR contacted the American Legion and a local Goodwill to provide community service in lieu of court fees. He fulfilled his commitment of 100 hours within two months and received excellent performance valuations from both sites. “His attitude and work ethic offer every indication that he is on the path to restoration,” she said.

In July, OAR Executive Director Gail Arnall testified before the Arlington County Board that over the past eight years, OAR’s number of community service clients has nearly doubled.

“Why is this good news? Because community service is a restorative justice model. Judges are giving defendants the opportunity to give back to the community instead of being locked up. These individuals perform a service to our community, and they typically do not have to bear the brand of an ‘ex-offender’ the rest of their lives,” Arnall said.

Other examples of organizations with whom OAR clients work include the Arlington Street People's Assistance Network (A-SPAN), which serves the homeless. OAR clients clean, serve meals, staff the registration desk, sort donations, and assist with operation of A-SPAN’s Emergency Winter Shelter.

OAR clients also help serve free meals to presently homeless individuals and families at Arlington Assembly of God. Blanca Alaf, assistant to Pastor Lynn Carter, said, “OAR volunteers perform greatly needed kitchen and cleaning duties for our feeding ministry. They're all doing a wonderful job.”

The organization served more than 2,500 clients during its 2012-2013 fiscal year. Fewer than 8 percent of OAR clients return to prison — a far lower recidivism rate than the Virginia-wide rate of 27.3 percent. For $500 per client per year, OAR provides career training, life-skills coaching, and support for finding housing and employment. Taxpayers in Virginia pay $25,000 annually to keep each inmate in prison.

Additional collaborations in the community include:

  • The Arlington-Falls Church Interfaith Reentry Collaborative recently formed to join efforts of OAR with faith congregations to help ex-offenders’ transition to employment and housing. On June 27, OAR staff participated in the first meeting of the Collaborative, which was chaired by Rev. Dr. Carol Green, pastor of Wilson Boulevard Christian Church in Arlington.
  • The Alexandria Reentry Interfaith Working Group has been reorganized with Arnall, OAR’s executive director, serving as chair. It held their renewal organizational meeting on July 16 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Alexandria Old Town.
  • In June, the Arlington Bar Foundation presented OAR with a grant to support of OAR’s work in the community.
  • OAR partnered in July with Men’s Wearhouse in the annual National Suit Drive, which donated used clothing to at-risk men transitioning into the workforce.