When Carlette Duffy was released from prison with an expunged record in 2000, it was a chance for a new start. As the newly-appointed director of reentry for the Office of Public Health and Safety (OPHS), Duffy hopes to offer a second chance for offenders reentering their communities.
“I found my voice of advocacy while I was incarcerated,” Duffy, 45, said, “and so when I came home, I wanted to work in the community.”
Duffy began working with the Help Others Prosper Economically (HOPE) Team, and eventually became the projects manager for OPHS, a role where she focused on reentry and risk factors for crime, such as homelessness and food insecurity.
“One thing I loved about working in the office was we supported each and every division within OPHS, including housing and food security,” Duffy said. “ … Reentry flows through all of those divisions, but the current issues we have right now are all systemic, so you can’t focus on just one.”
In her role as director, Duffy aims to work with other divisions to focus not just on reentry, but issues that need to be addressed to prevent crime from happening in the first place, such as poverty.
Paul Babcock, director of OPHS, believes Duffy is the right person for the job based on her professional and personal experiences working with the criminal justice system.
“Carlette is a dedicated and passionate person when it comes to assisting individuals returning to their communities. … It’s critically important,” Babcock said of having a person with an insider’s knowledge of the criminal justice system in this position. “Sometimes we lose sight of the human side to some of these issues working toward policy change. Carlette is able to bring that background to help the office and the city continue to connect with individuals from a sound policy and personal perspective.”
Some of Duffy’s biggest goals for her first year as director of reentry include helping those with a criminal record find housing and jobs, as well as improving racial equity.
“We are working with area landlords and property owners and seeing what we can do to work with them to lease to people with a criminal history,” Duffy said. “That will help tremendously.”
Finding homes in areas with a good education system, Duffy said, can help those with families pave a new path for their children.
“When I returned home, my daughter was 5 years old,” she said. “The biggest thing for me was getting housing in an area that had a good school system, which is the hope of most parents. I went to an apartment complex and they gave me a chance in Warren Township. … I want to give her the best foundation in education so that my issues don’t become cyclical.”
Employment for African Americans, let alone African Americans with felony charges, can be difficult to come by. This is something Duffy is hoping to change through policy.
“A white man with a criminal history is more likely to be employed than a Black man without a criminal history,” Duffy said. “People with a criminal history are not a protected group, and they are discriminated against for housing and employment opportunities. … So, with all the barriers that come with just your race as it is, having that stamp of conviction on you makes it a thousand times worse.”
Duffy also hopes to help people with a felony conviction get their records expunged to help their chances of starting a new life.
“I have a criminal history, and mine has been expunged. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. While Duffy concedes that it’s currently very difficult to get a felony record expunged, doing so breaks down many barriers that stand in the way of convicted felons from leading a normal life following release.
“This is not only something that helps the individual, but serves the city,” Duffy said, regarding employment opportunities. “It restores your rights as a citizen, because no one can use your criminal record against you when it comes to housing, employment, and [assistance] services. … It makes you whole again.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.