Augusta gets re-entry grant for former state prisoners

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May 2, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---15 state agencies announced a partnership today to help people in our area who are just getting out of jail.

A $100,000 investment made today will help former inmates get back on their feet.

Each day in Georgia, at least 350 offenders are released from state prisons. Many of them come back to live here in Augusta

According to state leaders, most end up right back in trouble because they don't have help.

You could call Matt Aitken a rarity. He is married with a newborn, owns a home in Augusta, and works full time for a local manufacturing company. He's also a two-time convicted felon who served years in prison for selling cocaine.

"I became a Christian when I was in prison," he told News 12. "Just getting back to that normalcy is a pretty huge task, and you got to have some kind of support."

The truth is, after jail, most ex-cons don't bounce back into society like Matt did. Instead, they end up back behind bars.

"65 percent of people who get out of our prisons will commit crimes again, so the investment we make in these folks in helping people that want to become productive citizens (is very important)," said Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver.

Today, leaders with the Georgia Department of Corrections made a $100,000 investment in Augusta. The money will help pay for released inmates in Augusta to get a GED, pay for employment training, and provide mental health and substance abuse counseling.

"In most cases, what they remember is what brought them into the prison system in the first place," said Ted Wiggins of the DOC. "If we're not here to provide them with support, that 65 percent is going to continue to grow."

And while there's little sympathy for those who've repeatedly broken the law, leaders and Matt agree that re-entry programs don't just benefits the former inmates, but the community as well.

"We got to start thinking outside the box," Matt said. "Men and women are coming out of prison whether we want to admit it or not. They're coming back to the neighborhoods... so we may as well work with each other."

The re-entry program will help offenders out for the first six months they are out of prison.

The Department of Corrections says this grant was needed in Augusta because when you look at the list of Georgia zip codes where most prisoners come from, Augusta has two in the top ten.

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