THE ISSUE: Educating inmates for life after prison. THE IMPACT: Preparing inmates for a world without bars not only benefits them but also the community, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which says that millions of tax dollars could be saved on an annual basis by helping inmates stay out of the system once they are free.
Tucker Prison inmates met with representatives of social service organizations recently, gaining skills to assist with life after prison. The event, held last week at Tucker Prison, was a part of “Think Legacy Re-entry and Reunification Job and Resources Fair.”
Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves touted the fair as a success. Prisoners help themselves by taking part, he said.
“Think Legacy is an evidence-based re-entry program that we implemented at the first of the year when we revamped our re-entry efforts within the Department of Correction,” Graves said. “These inmates have been a part of the program for the past six months. As they approach the end of the program, we are connecting them with resources.”
Former inmates spoke to the current inmates about their transition from incarceration to freedom.
The current inmates heard from board of corrections officials, parole supervision agency representatives, and a Goodwill of Arkansas representative. The inmates live according to a schedule that dictates their sleeping, eating, and other activities, Graves said.
“They have to figure out how to keep a budget,” Graves said. “They have to deal with disappointment when you fill out 17 [job] applications and you get a job on number 18 and then for whatever reason that job lays you off 45 days later.”
Eight of 10 inmates are going to be released from prison, whether they are serving sentences of four years or 40 years, Graves said. This program applies to each prisoner who has a future outside of incarceration, he said.
The inmates are being taught to communicate and socialize in a civilian setting.
Nicole Clark, the ADC Think Legacy Re-Entry treatment coordinator, said this program teaches social skills, cognitive thinking skills, and therapy to retrain their minds. The inmates need to learn a new way of thinking and to identify triggers in which they become angry.
“The only way the criminal mind is going to stop is by changing their way of thinking,” Clark said.
Inmates entered the area of the prison with the job fair and approached the vendors. They conversed and took brochures.
“We bring in vendors who will hire prior offenders,” Clark said. “We are teaching elevator speeches: how to sell yourself in 90 seconds. We are giving them another option or a new opportunity. We want to turn on every light and open every door before they go out.”
The ADC will be providing the Think Legacy program at other Arkansas prisons, Clark said.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are currently 2.3 million people incarcerated in prisons and jails across America. Approximately 30,000 of those inmates are incarcerated in the State of Alabama, which the statistics bureau recently focused on as part of a statistical study.
Alabama has implemented Project H.O.P.E. to help inmates there succeed after prison. The Helping Offenders Pursue Excellence project attempts to assist ex-offenders in addressing their housing, educational and employment needs.
Nationally, 97 percent of the offenders in jail today will be released and then return to the communities from which they came. Statistics show that 30 percent of adult offenders released from state prisons are re-arrested within the first six months of their release. Even worse, within three years of their release from prison this increases to 67 percent, or two out of three, ex-offenders returning to prison, according to the bureau.
Parole violators now account for 35 percent of new prison admissions as compared to only 17 percent in 1980.
Just in the Southern District of Alabama alone, in the federal system, between the years of 2008-2010, 328 ex-offenders were revoked for violating the terms of their supervised release and sent back to prison. The cost to the American taxpayer to incarcerate those 328 ex-offenders over a three year period amounted to $9.2 million annually.
If these same 328 ex-offenders had been successful on supervised release it would have only cost the American taxpayer roughly $1.3 million. Initiatives with the aim of giving ex-offenders a chance to become good citizens while simultaneously affording the greater community with the opportunity to enjoy safer neighborhoods in which to live and a lesser tax burden, the bureau’s study showed.
Back at Tucker Prison, inmate Anthony Oliver spoke with Emiley Bee of the Good Grid as part of the Resources and Jobs Fair. The Good Grid assists inmates with resume-writing, interview skills, placement into jobs, housing, and second-chance baking.
“Everyone [inmate] who we have talked to has been really professional [and] very nice,” Bee said. “They are very interested in learning how they can use the Good Grid to get themselves a job to get back on their feet once they get out.”
“We can help anyone,” Bee said. “We start out helping people if they are on active probation or parole but even if they are not on probation or parole, we can still help them. We have actually helped people who do not have a criminal background but who have fallen on hard times.”
Warden Joe Page III operates Tucker Prison and oversees 1,000 inmates. Page praised the Think Legacy program for providing structure, noting that society operates on structure. Some prisoners choose not to take advantage of the program. As a result, he focuses on the prisoners who accept the assistance.
“In my book, the Think Legacy guys are expected to be the best outstanding incarcerated inmates,” Page said. “They are expected to be on track. We make sure they wear top-notch uniforms.”
Page explained that law enforcement professionals study phenomenon associated with convicted criminals.
“A rational person understands society makes norms and rules,” Page said. “What makes this guy want to commit murder? What makes this guy want to commit aggravated robbery? Those guys do not want to do right.”