LSU AgCenter program helps prisoners return to society

Johnny Morgan, Fair, Sheri R., Olinde, Monica L., Perault, Laura L., Cross, Deborah C.  |  4/2/2009 7:24:41 PM

News Release Distributed 04/02/09

Helping inmates make the smooth transition back into society is the goal of a partnership involving the LSU AgCenter, the Louisiana Department of Corrections and nonprofit organizations in Ascension and East Baton Rouge parishes.

This partnership is designed to provide recently incarcerated individuals with skills needed to transition back into society.

Sheri Fair, LSU AgCenter agent in Ascension Parish, said she and other agents provide training in workforce development, financial management, anger management and parenting skills to individuals recently released from prison.

Fair said the partnership allows LSU AgCenter professionals to help people in Ascension, Iberville, Livingston, East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, St. James, St. John and Assumption parishes.

“When prisoners finish serving their time, they often lack the ‘soft skills’ needed to make a smooth transition back into the outside community,” she said.

Fair and fellow agents Deborah Cross in Iberville Parish, Laura Lea Perault in Livingston Parish and Monica Olinde in Pointe Coupee Parish conduct the classes and extend the educational efforts across parish lines, she said.

“With 63,000 probationers or parolees walking around us in the state, it is to everyone’s benefit to reduce the recidivism rate so they can be eased back into society, thus becoming productive members” she said.

Anthony Simon, district administrator for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Division of Probation and Parole in Donaldsonville, said the people he serves often don’t have the appropriate skills needed to gain employment.

“They just don’t dress appropriately, and they don’t have the speaking skills necessary to conduct a good interview,” he said.

Simon said his office serves approximately 2,500 offenders, and he’s found the LSU AgCenter’s program provides small steps that can steer his clients in the direction to get the tools they need to find better jobs.

With more than 5,500 offenders in East Baton Rouge Parish, there is definitely enough work to go around, said Gerri Garon, program manager with the state Division of Probation and Parole in Baton Rouge.

Simon said he would like to see the program expanded to the other probation and parole offices around the state.

“We’ve been amazed at the response we’ve received from the participants. And for our clientele to say they like something – that’s a huge achievement,” he said.

One of the partners is Step Out, a federally funded program that also provides case management and mentoring to offenders who were not convicted of violent or sex-related crimes.

“We mainly work to place our clients on jobs so they don’t find themselves back incarcerated,” said William Bradford, program coordinator with Step Out, a program of the Healing Place Church. “We know the chance of returning to jail is a lot lower if we can get them into a good work environment within 30 days of their release.”

Bradford said before he found out about the services of the LSU AgCenter, many of his placements didn’t stay long on the job. They just didn’t have the work experience and had a hard time assimilating, he said.

“Some of our clients had never worked, their parents had never worked, and even their grandparents had never worked. So they just didn’t have the skills needed to hold a job,” Bradford said.

Bradford said the services the LSU AgCenter is providing are making a major difference in keeping his clients on the job once they are hired. He said some of his clients had missed good jobs because they lack skills such as interviewing and telephone etiquette.

Johnny Morgan

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