Are We Our Brothers Keeper: GEO Reentry Services
I've been holding back on writing a post on this because its too important of an issue in our community to not have all the facts. While I understand the concerns of the community, the initial post and subsequent comments frankly straddle the line of fear mongering. I could not understand the comments as the Safer Foundation, a non for profit, operated on 73rd Cottage Grove for a number of years without incident.
I took upon myself to investigate and spoke to Alderman Sawyer and my contacts in the 8th ward. During my conversation I learned that the office building at 8001-8007 S. Cottage IS NOT a state owned building but several state agencies rent from a private owner No one was aware of the opening other than seeing the press release from Ms. Chinta Strausberg. I reached out to her and Mr. Emanuel Barr. Mr. Barr is the Outreach and Operations manager for GEO Reentry Services and the son of the late Rev. Leonard Barr who was a community activist in the Chatham community for over 25 years. I received a response to my emails from both Ms. Strausberg and Mr. Barr. Mr. Barr and I agreed to meet and speak about GEO Reentry services.
I have researched the "reentry services" field in the past when there was talk of individuals wanting to open "transitional" (Halfway Houses) in the community. I found that some of the largest non for profits such as Salvation Army were the largest providers of transitional housing and other related services. I googled GEO and found that they were a FOR Profit company and was involved in a number of states as well as in a number of lines of businesses that serve the corrections industry.
On Thursday, March 5th I met with Mr. Barr at the Chatham office of GEO Reentry. As I walked toward the building I was aware that the Illinois Department of Human Services had offices on the Cottage Grove side of the building but was not aware of what State of Illinois department had offices on the rear side. As I walked up I saw two entrances both with signs on the door reading Department of Corrections. I entered the first door and within the vestibule was GEO Reentry Services offices.
The offices were modern and I was greeted by a receptionist behind glass. Entry to the office required that you be buzzed in. Mr. Barr and I greeted each other and I we got into some questions. I admit I was not aware that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) was leasing space but was told they had been there for the past 15 years. I also asked about what was GEO Reentry Services and what made them different than some of the other organizations. GEO Reentry is a FOR PROFIT and takes a different approach to reentry services than the non profits such as Safer Foundation and others. Per Barr, GEO takes a more holistic approach to working with their clients. They don't believe that propping up an individual to get a job is productive unless the individual mindset is to be productive and has made the steps necessary to keep the job. As it was explained unless you get rid of the "stinkin thinkin" all your other efforts are useless. Most of the clients are non violent offenders (Drugs, theft, etc) who are in violation of their parole and risk going back into IDOC custody. Their parole officers refer them to GEO Reentry as a way to get them back on track. The facility has rules with the main one no earrings, hats or jewelry can be worn inside the facility. This stops any one from making an assumption that another was wearing gang paraphernalia. Also, foul language and smoking is not permitted. Clients are drug tested (dropping) and by breathalyzer for alcohol. Clients are assessed and put on an individualized services program that could last from 3-9 months. Services that GEO offers their clients are employment assistance, educational assistance, anger management , substance abuse and individual cognitive behavioral treatment (ICBT) services are all on site. Those individuals that require additional services are referred to outside agencies. I toured the facility and the space was modern and well equipped. The facility has a computer lab that serves several purposes that include, job search/resume preparation, situation simulation programs and educational programs. There is a multipurpose room that can be divided to provide two classrooms. The facility was build out under the supervision of Mr. Barr who stated he was compelled to make it the best it could be because he wanted the best for the community in which he was raised.
We talked about the emails and post that have been swirling around. Mr. Barr stated first he is from Chatham and still has relatives and he was asked to take the Outreach/Operation manager position in October and they started construction in December and he oversaw the construction from start to finish. He explained that his company is a contractor for the Illinois Department of Corrections and as a contractor,GEO’s role is to satisfy the requests of their customer. The reason why the services were requested for Chatham is because zip code 60619 has a large number of individuals currently on parole. He further stated that the build out had nothing to do with Alderman Michelle Harris(8), Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6) or state officials Elgie Sims, Marcus Evans, or Donne Trotter. It was a state request for services to this population and nothing more. That said, Barr has strong believes that engaging ongoing community support is a part of the success of any underserved population and has invited the elected officials to tour the site and find ways to connect the community. The biggest goal is to change the thinking of the participants and to help them become contributing members of the area, and not recidivating back in to prison. So there was and is no complicit activities going on with any elected official.
I also explained the communities concerns about "clients" loitering. He explained that although they are using their services the clients are still under supervision of the IDOC parole division and they would be in violation by engaging in such an activity. Lastly, I asked about GEO becoming a true community partner and Mr. Barr was more than happy to oblige. I asked about the organization creating a community advisory committee, working with Mather and the Department of Aging on helping seniors cope with love ones on probation and also working with the community on the Nuway situation. On all, Mr. Barr was open and was willing to sit down and get to work. Currently, the center is only servicing 7 individuals since they opened earlier this week, but expect to have up to 100. He stated that there may be employment opportunities there as well at other facilities and would share them with the community as they arise.
Mr. Barr again stated the community was welcome to come and tour the facility as well as he wanted to come to the GCA meeting on the 21st to discuss GEO Reentry. I forwarded his request to Mr. Thomas.
My bottom line is we must understand that we cannot export our problems to other communities anymore, communities such as Uptown are going through gentrification and are pushing out social service providers with exorbitant rents. We must commit to an A squared solution. First acknowledge then take action. We cannot continue to blame the loiterers along 79th Street and along Cottage Grove on the methadone clinic.