Help us build a tool that will help ex-offenders re-build their lives

Dawn Peterson
Oct 28 · 3 min read

Each day in the United States, thousands of ex-prisoners leave a life of coerced routine for one of uncertainty.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 650,000 people are released from federal and state prisons each year. That’s thousands of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, returning to their communities after years, sometimes decades, of imprisonment with no road map for navigating life on the outside.

Leaving prison is the start of a long trip to independence — GPS not included.

For ex-offenders, life after prison can be daunting, their criminal records often limiting their access to education, employment and housing.

A joint project of Open Charlotte Brigade and the Re-entry Partners of Mecklenburg (RPM) aims to make this transition easier.

The goal of our flagship Re-entry Project is to build a customizable tool that will guide both prisoners and ex-prisoners through the steps and resources they need to successfully re-enter their communities.

Project history

The idea for the project began as a question.

Touched by the stories of family members who had experienced difficulties returning home after incarceration, Charlotte Brigade Director Jill Bjers wondered what the experience was like for other people who didn’t have the resources and support of a loving family.

With the help of contacts she made through RPM, which is a collection of agencies that provides programs and services to ex-prisoners, Bjers was able to conduct 70 interviews with formerly incarcerated individuals and their families as well as resource providers.

The main takeaway from these conversations was ex-offenders’ desire for a tailor-made guide for re-entry.

A tree grows up from the sidewalk in front of a yellow house.
A tree grows up from the sidewalk in front of a yellow house.
Just a dream? Having a criminal record can limit access to housing.

How you can help

As this will be the signature project of our brigade for the foreseeable future, Open Charlotte is reaching out to the community for assistance. While we’ll need both coders and non-coders to make this project successful, the bulk of our immediate needs do not involve coding.

Interested in research? Have a knack for creating user personas? We’re looking for you. Here’s where to start:

  1. Visit our public Trello board here.
  2. Sign up for an account. It’s free.
  3. After you’ve created and confirmed your account, return to our board and read the “Onboarding,” “Resources” and “What We’ve Learned” lists.
  4. Scroll right until you reach the “Team Members” list.
  5. Click on the “New to the Team?” card.
  6. Under the “Activity” heading, leave a comment that includes: a) your name b) what you’d like to contribute — i.e., front-end development, user testing, research, etc. c) any questions you have after reading the “Onboarding” materials and d) whether you’re on our Slack (If not, we’ll send you an invite.)

From there, if you’re ready to get started, scroll to the “Topics to be Researched” or “Backlog” lists, and find an item you’d like to work on.

You’re all set. If you decide the Re-entry Project is not the project for you, no problem! Check out our “Community Events Calendar” project and several others in our Civic Projects Directory located here.

We also invite you to join us at our next Community Night, which will be Wed., Nov. 13. You can RSVP here.

Open Charlotte Brigade

Think volunteer fire brigade for the digital age. We are a volunteer citizen brigade. We use technology and advocacy as a tool for open government, open data and civic engagement.

Dawn Peterson

Written by

Open Charlotte Brigade

Think volunteer fire brigade for the digital age. We are a volunteer citizen brigade. We use technology and advocacy as a tool for open government, open data and civic engagement.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade