On Thursday, May 2nd, the Montgomery Bar Foundation hosted its 3rd annual Access to Justice Summit at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, bringing together almost 100 community leaders – including judges, lawyers, nonprofit and business executives, funders, members of the faith-community, and county agency representatives – to discuss the challenges encountered by those reentering the community after incarceration.
After a warm welcome by Montgomery Bar Foundation President, Carl Weiner, and County Commissioner, Kenneth Lawrence, Jr., attendees participated in a unique simulation of the difficult experiences encountered by reentry individuals. Led by Leslie Jones, Policy and Advocacy Director of the Montgomery County Public Defenders’ Office, the simulation effectively – and movingly – demonstrated the surprising and complex challenges that make it difficult for so many individuals to successfully return to the community after prison.
Supplementing the simulation, several individuals who navigated these challenges after their own periods of incarceration shared their stories with a captivated audience.
The second part of the event provided an opportunity for attendees to process the many insights generated by the simulation and presentations. Participants were led in small-group discussions, through which they shared their experiences and discussed ideas to more effectively and collaboratively address this complex issue. In addition to the innovative and practical ideas that emerged, virtually every group noted the importance of empathy and relationship-building in this crucial work, and extolled the value of events like the Summit in fostering these skills.
As noted by Mr. Weiner,The Access to Justice Summit was an enlightening experience for all who participated on the challenges facing those re-entering society after incarceration. This topic provided an excellent forum for representatives of the many non-profit organizations and government agencies who were present to share ideas on addressing some of the overlap and conflicts in support services that can prove daunting to someone released from incarceration. This very sort of discussion is exactly what the Montgomery Bar Foundation hoped to accomplish by sponsoring this event.
Using information gathered and connections made at the Summit, this year’s Montgomery Bar Association Leadership Academy participants will be developing and hosting a Reentry Clinic at the Intermediate Unit on June 28th. The event will feature various programs and services for reentry individuals and will utilize many of the community partnerships highlighted at the Summit. This combination of events is representative of the Montgomery Bar Foundation’s commitment to facilitating valuable connections and collaborations throughout the county in an effort to ensure equal access to justice for all.
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