The Pathways to Work Reentry Program allowed its 250th previously incarcerated resident to reobtain a Washington, D.C. driver’s license, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced Oct. 4.
The Bowser administration established the program in November 2017 to help integrate returning citizens back into society, according to the Oct. 4 news release. The program was established in collaboration with the Central Collection Unit, a District government office that collects delinquent debts housed within the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
Managed by the Mayor’s Office on Returning Citizens Affairs and the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, the program assists returning D.C. residents who would otherwise be unable to acquire a driver’s license because of previous automobile ticket debts or insurance lapses.
The Pathways program seeks to address one of the main causes for reincarceration: driving without a license, MORCA director Brian Ferguson (COL ’18) said in an interview with The Hoya.
“Driving without a license or only a suspended license is the main cause of being rearrested in Washington, D.C., for returning citizens in the district,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson, who majored in justice and peace studies while at Georgetown, was wrongfully convicted of murder in 2002, and exonerated in 2013 after serving 11 years in prison. After leaving prison, Ferguson began his education and advocacy career in prison justice and reform.
Ferguson launched Start Line — a startup company addressing the challenges of previously incarcerated citizens by allowing people to identify, locate and rate available resources—before joining the Bowser administration as an advocate for returning residents.
Easing the transition period for returning citizens while ensuring their future success was one of the key considerations in developing the Pathways program, according to Ferguson.
“The challenge was to create the system that enabled [returning citizens] to be able to pay the debt that they owed but also make it more manageable for them,” he said.
The idea for the Pathways program was based on Bowser’s work to obtain an exemption for District residents from a federal law that required the automatic revocation of a driver’s license following a drug conviction, according to Ferguson. The Pathways program brings D.C. residents back into legal compliance, so they are not tempted to drive without a license.
The driver’s licenses obtained through the program also enable returning residents with access to increased job opportunities, Ferguson said.
“Having a license is often a prerequisite for a lot of employment opportunities, especially ‘low barriers to entry’ employment. If you didn’t have a job, it was a vicious cycle,” Ferguson said. “You would not be able to pay the money to get the license, but you needed the license to get the job. We wanted to break that cycle and not have finances, or the lack thereof, determine people’s access to opportunities in the city.”
Ferguson said the Pathways program is currently working to expand to other communities stifled by barriers to employment, including low-income and immigrant communities.
A restored or renewed driver’s license allows returning citizens to pursue job opportunities that are not easily accessible or walkable, and offers appropriate credentialing for jobs that directly require driver licenses, according to the Oct. 4 news release.
A driver’s license is one of the key tools for a returning citizen to reintegrate back into society, Bowser said in the news release.
“A core D.C. value is believing in second chances,” Bowser said. “Returning citizens deserve the chance to contribute to their community, earn a living, and make choices to put their lives back onto a pathway to the middle class, and a driver’s license is a fundamental building block to making those dreams a reality.”