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Finding Common Ground on Re-Entry from Prison

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Can we balance public safety and re-entry from prison? Two leaders in prison reform and corrections explore solutions.

America has the highest rates of incarceration in the world. Once people leave prison, the hope is that they’ll be law-abiding, productive members of society. But all too often this isn’t the case – four in 10 prisoners are back behind bars within three years of release.

In this episode of Let’s Find Common Ground, we meet two men who want to fix the flawed re-entry process in the U.S.

They come to the problem from very different backgrounds. A former prison warden and overseer of regional prisons, Daren Swenson has spent his career in corrections. Georgetown University professor Marc Howard is a reformer who has long campaigned for the rights and humanity of incarcerated people.

They joined a diverse group of leaders and experts brought together by Convergence Center for Policy Resolution to come up with solutions that take into account both the dignity of the person re-entering society and the public safety implications of that person’s release.

Initially, each man was nervous and a little wary of the other. But as they tell us in the podcast, they had much more in common than they realized. Several years after their initial meeting and their work on re-entry reform, they’ve become good friends.

This podcast was co-produced in partnership with Convergence Center for Policy Resolution and is one of a series of podcasts that Common Ground Committee and Convergence are producing together. Each highlights the common ground that resulted from one of Convergence’s structured dialogues-across-differences.

Read the Episode Transcript

Ep 52 – Finding Common Ground on Re-Entry from Prison

Marc M. Howard

Marc M. Howard is one of the country’s leading voices and advocates for criminal justice and prison reform. He is a Professor of Government and Law, and the founding Director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative, at Georgetown University. He is also the Founder and President of the Frederick Douglass Project for Justice, a non-profit organization that launched in 2020.

Howard’s scholarly research addresses the deep challenges of contemporary democracy and the tragedy of criminal justice and prisons in America. The author of three books and dozens of academic articles, his work has received numerous awards. His most recent book is Unusually Cruel: Prisons, Punishment, and the Real American Exceptionalism.

Under Howard’s leadership, the Prisons and Justice Initiative recently launched the Pivot Program for formerly incarcerated women and men to become entrepreneurs and business leaders, the Paralegal Program for formerly incarcerated jailhouse lawyers to become certified paralegals who are employed by major DC law firms, and the Prison Scholars Program, which offers both credit-bearing and non-credit courses to incarcerated students at the DC Jail, and a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree at the Patuxent Institution in Maryland.

Daren Swenson

Vice President, Reentry Partnerships and Innovation, CoreCivic

A 30-year veteran in the field of corrections, Daren Swenson was named CoreCivic’s vice president of Reentry Partnerships and Innovation in January 2021. In this newly created role, Daren utilizes his diverse background in facility operations and community corrections to develop cutting edge reentry partnerships that help returning citizens get back on track. In 2017, Swenson participated in the Convergence Reentry Ready Project, a multi-stakeholder effort to help formerly incarcerated people succeed by focusing on what happens during incarceration and immediately after release.

Prior to accepting his role in reentry partnerships and innovation, Swenson served for five years as vice president of Community Corrections where he led the company’s efforts to expand residential and non-residential alternatives to traditional incarceration.

Swenson joined CoreCivic in August 1992 as a sergeant at Prairie Correctional Facility in Minnesota and has continued to hold positions of increasing responsibility with 20+ years spent in executive correctional leadership. In 2007, he was promoted to managing director of Facility Operations, and in June 2010, he was promoted again to vice president of Facility Operations overseeing 22 facilities. Swenson holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology from North Dakota State University.

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