Baltimore City District Judge Nicole Pastore-Klein along with her intern, Caroline Hecker, a student at University of Maryland, College Park, are changing the way courts approach criminal justice by helping people who find themselves in her courtroom find jobs.
The District Court Re-entry Project (DCREP) provides job training, education and job placement to current offenders. Individuals appearing in court may be offered the opportunity to complete one of the partnership programs and find a job as a pretrial participant, as a condition of probation or where my area is: as a common referral.
Pastore-Klein, who started the program after the unrest in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray, wanted to start a program to create economic empowerment and opportunity in Baltimore.
Referrals include defendants who have not been placed on probation, may have received a probation before judgment or may not even have a criminal record but are looking for work. Some of the programs through DCREP offer assistance in general job preparation, including resume building, job training and education. However, the program also provides certificates in specialized areas such as installing solar panels. The training and certificate programs help individuals find permanent job opportunities in the Baltimore area.
There are a lot of challenges facing individuals who enter the program, but that does not stop them from being successful. To celebrate those who successfully complete the program — meaning they received a training certificate and kept a job for at least three months — Pastore-Klein hosts graduation ceremonies. So far, the DCREP has had more than 65 graduates within two years.
Hecker, the judge’s intern who helps facilitate the program, notes as the program gains popularity, some referrals may have had no court record or may have a record from many years eariler, but still come to the courthouse looking for a job.
“When that happens,” says Hecker, “we are, of course, happy to oblige! I also make sure to reach out to old referrals who were unable to participate at the time and offer them re-referrals if they are still out of work.”
It is important to the program’s success that they meet people where they are and continue to serve as a resource for those who are referred to the program.
Judge Pastore- Klein is proud of the program’s success and looks to expand the program in the future.
“DCREP was created to assist those in the justice system who have struggled to find work as a result of a record or lack of opportunity,” she says. “We are now expanding as much as possible to help anyone in need get back on their feet and into the workforce.”
Pastore-Klein hopes the program will be a part of creating opportunity for some and second chances for others. “DCREP provides people an opportunity to make meaningful change by not letting someone’s past dictate his or her future.”
For attorneys who work in the criminal justice system, or even those who do not, this program is important for young lawyers to learn about and perhaps replicate in courtrooms around the state!