Earl Bloodworth has never served time in prison himself. But a tense encounter with the New Haven police when he was a teenager helped spur him to pursue a second career some two decades later that focuses on helping the formerly incarcerated reintegrate into the city he still calls home.
Bloodworth, the program manager for the city’s Warren Kimbro Reentry Project, discussed his trajectory towards criminal justice reform on the latest episode of WNHH’s “Criminal Justice Insider with Babz Rawls-Ivy and Jeff Grant.”
The Warren Kimbro Project (WKRP), named for a former local Black Panther who famously was tried and convicted for the murder of a fellow party member, served time in prison, got a Harvard education, and rededicated his life to ex-prisoner reentry, was founded in October 2015 with a $1 million “Second Chance Act” grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The grant charged its five city recipients with cutting their respective rates of recidivism by half over the course of three years.
The program is a collaboration between the state Department of Correction (DOC) and Goodwill Industries, Community Action Agency New Haven, and Project M.O.R.E., the last of which Bloodworth also serves as interim director for since Clifton Graves was elected probate judge last year.
The WKRP seeks to achieve that goal of reduced recidivism by working with Connecticut prisoners during the year before they are scheduled to be released in order to help line up for them a variety of social service support, including housing, education, and physical and mental health services. Bloodworth summed up the mission of the WKRP as helping individuals “get off the carousel of coming out of prison and going back in.” He said that around 100 ex-prisoners return to New Haven every month.
The WKRP works only with individuals assessed by their case managers as having a moderate or high risk of recidivism. The program, which includes a state DOC liaison, a community advocate, and three case managers including Bloodworth, routinely sends its employees to the five Connecticut partner prisons in order to sign up soon-to-be-released individuals who are interested in the program.
Bloodworth said that, unlike the many, many ex-prisoners he works with over the course of the year, he himself has never served time behind bars. But, he said, he did have a tense and transformative encounter with the NHPD when he was growing up in Newhallville.
Bloodworth said that he was 18 in 1993, and spent his first summer home from college (he started college as a 17-year-old) working for the local athletics-education nonprofit LEAP.
He said he was stopped that summer by three police cars in his neighborhood. He lost his temper with the officers.
“I was like, ‘I’m in my neighborhood,’” he said. “‘I’m helping out my community. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.’ And I’m being stopped, and I felt harassed.”
Bloodworth said that he was taken to jail for the night, but released the next day. He later found out that he had been stopped by the police because he fit the description for a different suspect the police were looking for.
“That situation could have went completely left,” he said. “In a whole other direction. And that’s what I think about every time that I’m going into these prisons and working with these individuals. I could easily be on the other side of the table.”
Bloodworth said that another critical moment in his path to working in the criminal justice reform field came in 2014, when he decided to leave his job as a project manager for Verizon’s corporate business accounts in Wallingford.
He said the company was doing restructuring, moving departments to Utah, Ohio, Maryland, and Atlanta. He said his son had just graduated high school, his wife had just finished her medical fellowship, and he was looking to “move out of corporate.”
Bloodworth left his job and started volunteering with a variety of local social justice groups, like New Haven Rising. He next got a job in Hartford working as the public information office for the General Assembly’s African American Affairs Commission.
He traveled the state leading forums on racial profiling, the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration.
Although he lost that job due to state budget cuts and wound up working as a substitute teacher at King Robinson in early 2016, he knew that he wanted to commit himself to a second full-time career in criminal justice reform. He applied for the WKRP project manager job in March 2016, and found out he got that July.
Bloodworth said he is wary of more state budget cuts to the variety of criminal justice reform programs he is involved with, including the WKRP, Project Fresh Start, and the New Haven Reentry Community Roundtable.
But he stressed the importance of a self-declared “second chance society” like Connecticut dedicating adequate resources to the programs that help make that ideal a reality.
“You have some of the most brilliant people who are locked up,” he said. “And you need to afford them the opportunity to reach their potential.”
“We have the aspirations to be a second chance state and society,” he continued. “But are we willing to make the tough decisions to really fund what that means.”
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“Criminal Justice Insider” airs every first and third Friday of the month on WNHH FM at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Listen to the full interview by clicking on the audio player above or Facebook Live video below.