Reentry Program to Help Ex-Offenders May Be On Its Way to Macon

7:16 PM, Feb 18, 2010   |    comments
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A program designed to help ex-convicts reintegrate into the community may be on it's way to Macon.

The Macon Reentry Coalition started in 2008, to look at how to reach offenders before they go back to a life of crime.

In 2009, the Georgia prison system released 404 inmates who call Bibb County home.

Now, more than fifteen organizations are on board to get a reentry program started in Macon, including the city, the county, and the Department of Corrections.

Derrell Dean loves a good game of dominos at the Macon Rescue Mission.

It's a big change from the activities that used to occupy his life.

Dean says, "I've been dealing with drugs for a long time, and drugs kinda had me super messed up, and I couldn't seem to shake it, I didn't have any tools to work with, I had no knowledge about addiction or any of that."

He adds, "that's what I lived to do and what I did to live, was get high. But today I don't have to do that anymore."

Dean wanted a fresh start.

He says, "I was tired of prisons, tired of jails, tired of living like an animal."

So he came to the River Edge Behavioral Health Care Center and enrolled in substance abuse counseling.

"I think that's a wonderful thing because, had I not gotten involved with this place here, and the Rescue Mission and other places that help people like me, I would have been either on my way back to prison or dead."

It's just one part of a Community Impact Program to help people like Dean when they get out of prison.

Macon's Chief Probation Officer Stacy Rivera says her office, the police department and agencies like River Edge all see many of the same clients.

Rivera says, "we're all kind of off doing our own thing, doing what we do best, but we need to communicate more, we need to bring it all under one roof, all to one table so we are addressing the crime problem the way it needs to be addressed. The solution is not always to just lock someone up."

That's why she says the Macon Reentry Coalition wants to show high risk offenders where to go to get help.

Rivera says, "if you're releasing them and you're not servicing them, what are they going to do? They are going to create more victims, so we just think we are being smarter about it, with reentry."

Demetra Butler runs the Savannah Impact Program, a model for other cities like Macon.

They offer services for high risk offenders on probation and parole, and others who maxed out their sentence, much like Macon hopes to do.

 

Butler says, "why set the person up to fail? Why set them up to go back to doing what they are accustomed to doing--selling drugs, prostitution, breaking into homes, whatever it is, that drives up our crime."

Butler says since 2005, 409 offenders came to the program for help voluntarily.

Of those 409, she says only 10 have gone back to prison on new felony convictions.

She says, "these people need to be positively reintegrated into the community, and to give them that, not hand-out but hand-up to say we have these resources that are going to be available for you."

Butler says the people in the program are proof that it works, like Randy Brown, who joined the Savannah Impact Program three years ago after spending 17 years in and out of prison.

Now Brown works at the site as a maintenance supervisor.

He says, "I told them I had a past history with drugs, and just put all my cards on the table and said I need help, will you help me? And I got all the help I needed right here at Savannah Impact, and it's a miracle because this is the longest I've ever had a job or anything."

Brown says he never wants to go back to life on the streets.

Now, he drives his own car and pays his own bills. He says just years ago, he was living in an abandoned home.

He says, "this is the longest I've ever been out without getting into trouble, none at all, so this is an accomplishment for me."

Brown says now he lives for his children, and nothing could take him away from them.

Demetra Butler says officers with the program go and talk to offenders before they get out of prison, to tell them about the program and the resources that are available.

She says, "often times before that person gets home, we have that plan in place as to where they are going to stay, whether it's with a family member, we have appointments and schedules set up for them, we even have the necessary social services set up, IDs, so when this person comes home, we've got a plan set so the anxiety is not so overwhelming."

She says, "for those who really want the assistance, they appreciate the assistance, they appreciate the help that they have been given."

Most people are in the program for about six to twelve months, but she says some stay for much longer, and continue to call and check in with program officials.

The program offers clients a varitey of classes on site, some of those include moral recognition therapy, anger management, and courses to help them get a GED so they can find employment, and reintegrate into everyday life.

The program also provides a savings to taxpayers.

It costs $55 a day to house an inmate in the Bibb County Jail.

But the cost for intensive probation supervision is only about $3.86.

Stacy Rivera says, "we're being smarter about crime, and number one we want to keep the community safe, that's the whole goal of this."

Derrell Dean says he's proud of where he is today, and hopes a program like reentry can offer assistance to others like him who need it most.

He says, "a lot of adicts, they don't know that help is available, because I didn't know, as many times as I've been in and out of jail I never really got an education about drugs, and I didn't know why I kept doing what I was doing."

But he says he knows now that a game of dominos is the best way to spend his time.

Dean says, "I cry alot because I have real sincere feelings about where I am today."

 

The Macon Reentry Coalition still has a few obstacles, the major one is funding.

The Macon Reentry Coalition still has a few obstacles, the major one is funding.

Stacy Rivera says the Department of Corrections fully supports Macon's plans to establish a Community Impact Program, but have not committed funding yet.

They are also still working on which agency will lead the effort.

In Savannah, it's an extension of the police department, with funding coming from the city.

The Macon Police Department says as of now, they plan to devote a captain, sergeant and two officers to reentry.

Coalition members also continue looking into a location for the program here in Macon.

They hope to have something up and running by the end of the year.

 

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