Prison officials answer reentry program questions

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News 12 at 11 o'clock, June 6, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---Prisoners are released in Georgia every day and expected to quietly merge back into society. But the transition is not an easy one. That's why representatives from the Department of Corrections and state parole board were in town tonight to talk with people living in Augusta about the Georgia Reentry Impact Program, which is designed to help offenders for the first six months they are out of prison.

There are parolees enrolled in this program so far, some of them right here in Augusta.

When the doors of freedom open for some Georgia inmates, there is a 66 percent chance that many of them will end up back on the inside. It is hoped that the new program will help smooth the transition back into society.

"Convicted felons, we've got to figure they cannot get a job," said Superior Court Judge David Roper. "We have got to figure out a way to get them reconnected with the community and make them productive citizens again."

"I endorse it 100 percent," said State Senator Ed Tarver. "We need to make sure we have a structure in place to reenter the community, not only to help get jobs, but help them reconnect with their families."

"The best thing we can do is help these folks become contributing members of our community," he went on.

But some Georgians are not familiar with the program and many are just skeptical. Tonight was an opportunity for them to hear more from members of the state Department of Corrections.

"I don't have a problem with parolees looking for work," said Linda Engleking-Cooper. "What I am interested in is we as community members, how we can be involved in this process."

"Why should you fear your own? Why should you fear those that came from you? So why not do something to assist?" said Richmond County teacher and resident William Harris.

"I would rather live beside a person on parole than a person that maxed out his sentence," said Garland Hunt, chairman of the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Parole.

Hunt says that one of the misconceptions about the program is that it's assumed those released from prison are not ready. He and other members of the Georgia prison boards say unless the program is used to its maximum, we will never know how well it will work.

"The point is: give one year supervision," Hunt said. "That's somebody that knows where he goes, where he works, where he lives, drug free, as opposed to maxing out of his sentence and nobody knows where he lives, where he works, and he's back in society without any accountability."

"Our philosophy is, if you are afraid of them, lock them up," said James E. Donald, commissioner of the Department of Corrections. "If we are just mad at them, maybe we ought to think about some type of alternative options for them."

"We all make mistakes in the walk of life," said Bill Jackson of the Board of Corrections. "Certainly that would be a reasonable assumption."

"(The) 'lock them up and throw away the key' concept is just not working, and we're going to let the public know, and we're going to do something to change that," said Wayne Dasher, chairman of the Board of Corrections.

The reentry program is a five-step process that begins with a diagnosis/evaluation. After that, it could be six to 18 months before a parolee is released.

In between, however, they are monitored and will follow a map of sorts to help them ease back into the community.

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