These former inmates got training and therapy. Pardons and Paroles wants to expand the model.
State joining multistate initiative to help incarcerated re-enter society
A soon to be PREP graduate looks at his fellow graduate adjust his cap before PREP graduation at the Perry County Correctional Facility in Uniontown, Ala., on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. (Will McLelland for Alabama Reflector)
Friday was a momentous day for almost a dozen people in the Perry County Probation and Parole Reentry Education Program.
It was the day they successfully completed a workforce training and rehabilitation program, earning them a chance to eventually return home to be with their loved ones.
“I came here with the mindset that I didn’t deserve to be here, so it took me a minute to realize that you don’t have to be addicted or be in any type of thing to be here,” said Richard Tillman, one of Friday’s graduates. “You could have something wrong with your thinking. This program actually taught me how to change my thinking.”
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The program included vocational training in a variety of fields, from tree trimming to welding, and work sessions for participants to learn how to process their emotions and control their thoughts and behaviors.
Instructors in the program also tried to help those in the program deal with potential obstacles they may face after release. Carlton Jones, one of Friday’s graduates, said two instructors taught him tree climbing.
“I am truly afraid of heights, and my first time climbing that pole I got about halfway down, and I realized I wasn’t scared anymore because the first thing they said was, ‘trust your equipment,’” he said.
The Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles hopes to replicate the graduates’ success for hundreds, if not thousands, more individuals who are either currently incarcerated or on probation within the next decade through Reentry 2030, a nationwide initiative to increase successful reentry for those connected with the criminal justice system.
“As we embark on this journey with Reentry 2030, I am honored to work with Alabama’s executive leadership efforts in reshaping reentry outcomes,” said ABPP Director Cam Ward. “With determination and collaboration, together we will harness the power of empathy and innovation to break down barriers, open doors to opportunity, and guide those who were previously incarcerated or serving probation toward a path of success.”
As of July 31, 2023, the Bureau had an estimated total supervised population of 41,042 individuals.
ABPP, in partnership with The Council of State Governments Justice Center, wants the program to cut recidivism by half in the next seven years.
“Today, in 2023, what your reentry experience is like will be dictated by where you are incarcerated and where you are released to,” said Megan Quattlebaum, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “Some prisons are much better resourced than others to help prepare people for successful reentry. Some communities are much better resourced with supports that know folks need around job training, education, housing, mental health, and substance abuse.”
Under Reentry 2030, each state sets its own goals. Once a state decides to join, staff from the Council of State Governments Justice Center provide assistance, including planning, design and technical support.
Ward said he had been developing the state’s plan for months.
“Right now, we are ranked 25th in the country as far as recidivism rates,” Ward said. “If we cut that down to 15% or less, we will be in the top 5 in the country for recidivism. I want us to be a leader in reducing recidivism. That is my goal.”
To do that he will need the assistance of other organizations, from those that provide mental health services to job training, as well as those that deal with substance abuse disorders, what Ward calls the three pillars of his plan.
Joining him were the agencies that could help him with that, including the Alabama Department of Labor and the Alabama Department of Mental Health, as well as Ingram State Technical College.
Alabama Secretary of Labor Fitzgerald Washington spoke of a second chance job fair that his agency sponsored for the past several years that linked those who had some connection with the criminal justice system with prospective employers.
One Jack’s franchise needed to fill six positions. By the end of that job fair, the establishment managed to find people to fill them.
“All six of the people are still with them,” Washington said. “Three had been moved up to upper management, all in a year.”
Those are the successes that ABPP and the partner agencies are counting on retelling for future graduates because employment is a key factor for success when it comes to reentry.
Carlos Smith, one of Friday’s graduates, wants to leverage the workforce skills he learned in one of the vocational training programs.
“I got a job offer for tree trimming at PowerGrid, so I am trying to pursue that career,” he said.
Three of the graduates have focused on employment as one of their key goals.
“My first stop is to find the best job that I can,” Jones said. “Now that I have something to offer an employer, I don’t feel like I have to compete with anybody anymore. Now, I can excel.”
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