Obenshain’s crusade against Gemeinschaft

Brent Finnegan -- February 1st, 2007

Mark Obenshain is asking the Gemeinschaft (halfway house on Chicago Ave) to shut down, saying that it’s too dangerous to have ex-convicts in town.

Obenshain recently introduced a bill, SB1378, which would give localities (like the Harrisonburg city council) approval rights on each person admitted to these sorts of programs. Much of this stems from an incident in May of 2005, when a violent offender was mistakenly admitted to the Gemeinschaft (a mistake on the part of the DOC) who robbed the Goodwill on East Market St with a pellet gun several years after living at the halfway house.

The legislation I can understand. But asking or telling the Gemeinschaft to shut down? That’s a different thing entirely.

Just a few days ago, David Reynolds filed this story for the DNR, explaining how the Gemeinschaft Home has helped countless ex-cons get their lives straightened out since 1986. They also helped another struggling halfway house near Charlottesville when a private company wanted to close it for not being profitable enough. Gemeinschaft has a poorly designed, non-functional website, but the Eisenhower Foundation has an informational page for it.

So, what is it? Do we just kick the halfway house out of the city?

-finnegan

22 Responses to “Obenshain’s crusade against Gemeinschaft”

  1. cook says:

    Finnegan writes: “Much of this stems from an incident in May of 2005, when a violent offender was mistakenly admitted to the Gemeinschaft (a mistake on the part of the DOC) who robbed the Goodwill on East Market St with a pellet gun several years after living at the halfway house.”

    Surely there must be more of an explanation that this single event. If that is really the rationale, Mark ought first to be asking JMU to leave Harrisonburg.

  2. cook says:

    second paragraph, first sentence: that=than

  3. Del Marvel says:

    Just to be clear: I think there are actually two facilities. There is the main Gemeinschaft complex just past EMU on Mount Clinton and appearently a halfway house closer to town on Chicago Ave. It seems like it’s the halfway house they want to shut down.
    My only first hand knowledge is that I know Gemeinschaft volunteers work every year setting up and loading up and cleaning up at the International Festival and are really appreciated there. Is the robbery of the Goodwill store the only incident they can come up with for the many, many men that have gone through that program over the years? It seems a little vindictive and NIMBY to me. Here’s a program that is actually doing something constructive to help rehabilitate offenders as opposed to the prevailing “lock ’em in a warehouse and throw away the key” mentality. And just think how much money are they saving the government every time they rehabilitate someone and remove them from the penal system. They do bring in guys from bigger cities in the state some of whom who wind up staying around here, but from what I’ve heard that’s good for them to get out of their original environment and a lot of them wind up integrating into the community.

  4. ktr001 says:

    It does seem silly that one incident would be enough to incite a movement to shut the place down. People slip through the cracks of our legal system all the time, for ridiculous things like misfiled paperwork. They should look at ways to improve the system rather than giving up on it. I think there should be more Gemeinschafts in our society, because everyone deserves a second chance.

  5. Reaganite says:

    The local probation office their Shenandoah Valley Day Reporting Center are located as close, if not closer, to local public schools and a church day-care center. How many of their “clients” have committed new crimes in the Harrisonburg/Rockingham County area versus new crimes committed by participants in the Gemeinschaft program? Should the probation office leave its current location, Senator Obenshain? Also, if I am not mistaken, that office monitor and treats sex offenders while on probation. Would not that be a greater risk to the area than the drug treatment focus of Gemeinschaft? If the senator’s concern is the importation of out-of-town offenders, is there really evidence to suggest that those brought here by Gemeinschaft have committed more crimes than local offenders (such as relatives of the Commonwealth Attorney or the Sheriff)?

    This is not 1995 and the path to responsible power in Richmond isn’t through an attack on crime/criminals. Fix the road problem by using conservative ideas and principles and the people will be happy to vote for you.

  6. finnegan says:

    I find it interesting how most of the people who comment on this blog are Democrats or Reganites, and how those views intersect on certain issues.

    For the record, I never said that pellet gun incident was the only one. That Nov 17th DNR article lists two others: a 2004 incident where someone robbed a BB&T with a knife, and a 2001 attempted rape.

    A line from that article sounds strangely suspicious to me: “local officials say they’re also worried that nonviolent criminals from Virginia’s urban areas may commit crimes in Harrisonburg after leaving Gemeinschaft.” Maybe I’m way off base here, but that sounds like veiled racism to me. What does that mean, other than “we don’t want black ex-cons coming here.” What about criminals from rural southwest Virginia? They’re ok?

  7. cook says:

    1980 Republican rhetoric argued for more freedom and smaller government.

    2007 Republican Party seems to be a big government party like the institutional Democratic Party. The primary difference seems to be that Democrats want to impose their will on the little people through bureaucrats; Republicans want to impose their will on the little people through law enforcement officers.

    Am I wrong, Reaganite?

  8. Reaganite says:

    I fear you are correct. The Republican party (at all levels) should remember that Ronald Reagan began his political awareness as a Democrat; as he said, the Democrat party left him, he didn’t leave it. I believe that is happening in reverse these days and that is why Finnegan is seeing the seemingly strange convergence between supposedly differing viewpoints on the blog. Who should really be surprised if many Reagan Republicans are shifting towards becoming Reagan Democrats?

  9. finnegan says:

    Interesting. Though I would respectfully disagree with cook that “Democrats want to impose their will on the little people through bureaucrats.” I see the gay issue in Virginia that Republicans keep harping on (the 2006 marriage amendment, Lohr’s 1727, etc) as the Republicans imposing their will on the little people* via bureaucrats.

    * By “little people,” I assume you mean the common man, not Leprechauns.

  10. Adam Sharp says:

    No, I think cook meant leprechauns. If I remember correctly, it was one of the more sophisticated Republican attempts to break the Irish vote away from the Democratic Party around the turn of the last century.

  11. ktr001 says:

    I think the Republican party imposes their will on the little people (or leprechauns, whatever) using fear as their weapon.

  12. John L says:

    As someone who has been involved with Gemeinschaft over the past few months, I can honestly say that this organization is needed- it is helping not just our own community but larger interests as well. Helping these men adjust to life outside of prison is critical, especially when our prisons tend to not “rehabilitate” inmates. Jennie Amison, the director, is an amazing person who is helping make some very good changes.

  13. finnegan says:

    Ditto, John L.

    Welcome to hburgnews, by the way. I don’t know much about local baseball, but I enjoy your blog.

  14. John L says:

    Thanks, Finnegan- make sure you let me know the next time H-burg bloggers get together, ok?

  15. Annelise says:

    Having been robbed by a Gemeinschaft graduate (not reported in the DNR), I feel qualified to opine that someone with discernment helps decide who gets to be in the program. Like maybe a woman who’s not afraid of her intuition. A lot of these ex-cons are good bullshit artists.

  16. finnegan says:

    Sorry to hear that, Annelise. There are many things not reported in the DNR.

    What woman would you be referring to? Yourself? Jennie Amison?

  17. Annelise says:

    I guess what I said was sexist. I’m talking about gut instinct, discernment, intuition, when it comes to admitting these guys. The guy that robbed us should never been admitted to the Gemeinschaft program. He said all the right things, the things he thought people wanted to hear, but to me he did not ring true. I never trusted him. That’s not true of others I have known in the program. It is an excellent program, but somebody in the system needs to look these guys in the eye and listen to their gut rather than paperwork. Know what I mean?

  18. finnegan says:

    Right. But Jennie Amison is in charge of that, and she is a woman.

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