Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR) of Arlington County Inc. is a community based restorative justice organization that blends compassion and accountability to assist former offenders in leading productive and responsible lives, to the benefit of all. OAR serves Arlington County, the Cities of Alexandria and Falls Church in Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

In July 2010, with funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, OAR united a group of volunteers to form the Advocacy Council, whose members perform as advocates for the special needs individuals face upon release from periods of incarceration, including men, women, military veterans, juveniles, the mentally challenged, and single and married individuals.

This Council is comprised of former offenders and volunteers, including family members, friends and community leaders that meet on a regular basis to discuss the issues that should be addressed to the local, State and Federal Agencies and that develop the rules and regulations that govern released individuals. The Advocacy Council advocates for changes in policies regarding housing, employment, medical assistance and other areas in which former offenders struggle to access. The Advocacy Council believes that bringing about positive and effective changes for former offenders will not only ease and assist this crucial transition, but will significantly reduce the rate of recidivism.

The Executive Order No. 11 (2010), The Virginia Prisoner and Juvenile Offender Re-Entry Council, which is chaired by the Secretary of Public Safety or a designated individual, is comprised of several departments that are directly involved with the transition of ex-offenders. This council attempts to identify barriers that exist in their respective departments that may impede the successful transition of these individuals (Virginia.Gov). Those barriers include, but not be limited to, job training, education, housing and substance abuse training. This order is in correlation with the aim of the OAR Advocacy Council, an agenda held close by the Virginia Governor.

The members of this Council that are former offenders have experienced certain barriers upon their subsequent release and advocate for change due to this experience. The Council advocates for either the improvement of set policies or the implementation of additional policies that may further assist in the individual’s transition. These changes shall have a direct and lasting effect, on the returning citizen, their family and the community as a whole.

The Advocacy Council dedicates time and effort in educating and training volunteers to advocate for changes that will aid in our attempts to bring about change. Council members currently involve themselves in speaking engagements before groups, committees and other organizations, again focusing on the changes that will be beneficial to society as a whole. The Council has various committees that address issues detrimental to the overall effectiveness of its mission. The Leadership Committee oversees the development of the training curriculum for speakers and new volunteers, and the coordination of speaking engagements, among others duties and responsibilities. The Brochure Committee is responsible for the overall development of brochures that will be distributed as a means of information and advertisement about the Council and OAR, in addition to the development and design of business cards for key members of the Council. The Housing Committee identifies the obstacles faced by ex-offenders that are returning to our communities and recommends changes to the laws and policies that govern housing issues. This includes researching the laws that govern halfway houses and other temporary housing arrangements that ex-offenders may need upon their release. The Employment Committee is responsible for developing relationships with local business owners as a means of a source of potential employment for qualified personnel after their period of incarceration. These relationships show the desire and willingness of community business leaders to help in the transition of individuals returning to the communities.

The Advocacy Council encourages family members and members of the communities, as well as members of other support organizations and businesses to attend their monthly meeting to gain a better understanding of its mission and offer their civic opinions and concerns. For more information, please contact Tracy Christiansen at 703-228-0609.

– Written by David Elliott, Advocacy Council Member