LSU AgCenter agents help prisoners prepare for reentry

Mary Ann Van Osdell, Boutwell, Mary Virginia, Crawford, Terri L., Stephens, Cynthia, Gillett, Danna F.  |  4/14/2011 12:32:34 AM

News Release Distributed 04/13/11

LSU AgCenter agents in northeast Louisiana are conducting classes in detention centers in Franklin, Richland, Morehouse and Union parishes to help prisoners prepare for reentering society.

The classes comply with the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections reentry preparation program, a 100-hour, pre-release curriculum in locally based parish detention centers.

The program, which has 60 participants, is a federal initiative implemented by the state Department of Corrections for inmates eligible for release, said LSU AgCenter agent Terri Crawford.

The state legislature authorized the development of entrepreneurial education for eligible offenders who have committed nonviolent crimes, Crawford said.

They also earn good-time credits if they work toward their GED or learn a trade, she said. Those who complete the reentry program can be released 90 days early when approved.

“When inmates earn early release, this saves money for state taxpayers,” said Danna Gillett, LSU AgCenter agent in Richland Parish.

The curriculum provides 10 sessions that include personal development, problem solving and decision making, anger management, values, victim awareness and restitution, employment skills, job placement assistance, money management and reentry support services, Crawford said.

The personal development session includes communication, nutrition education, stress management and parenting skills, Crawford said. “We already teach these topics to other groups. This is just a different audience.”

Caldwell Parish is slated for the program, said LSU AgCenter agent Cynthia Stephens. The Caldwell Parish sheriff asked her about teaching financial literacy to trustees. She then found out about good-time credits and contacted the Department of Corrections, which has approved the partnership.

The focus on financial management and job placement skills helps inmates learn how to establish credit, create a budget and live within their means, Crawford said.

“The ultimate goal is that they be prepared to get a job instead of a life of crime,” Gillett said.

Inmates also participate in a career interest inventory, learn how to apply for a job and prepare for an interview. “One of the homework assignments is a resume,” Crawford said.

In anger management, they write a letter to their new self from their old self. “This may seem like a silly activity, but it provides the inmate with an opportunity to reflect on his past actions and the consequences endured,” Crawford said. “They write out their plan to not repeat those actions again once released.”

Gillett said parenting classes are important because inmates can work with their child’s caregiver while they’re incarcerated. “Parenting skills can be learned, developed and enhanced as they reconnect with their families,” she said.

“Participants are eager to rebuild family relationships that were damaged by their poor choices,” Gillett said. “When I presented a program on communicating with their children, many asked for additional copies of stationery so they could write to all of their children.”

The program in Franklin Parish will be completed this month, said LSU AgCenter agent Ginger Boutwell. The parish has “a stack of applications” from inmates who want to get in the next series of classes.

“Inmates make the choice to participate in the program, and they have to be present at every class to get credit,” Crawford said. “If they miss a class, there is not an opportunity to make it up at a later date.”

The recidivism rate in northeast Louisiana is between 80 and 85 percent, Stephens said. After another group offered the program in south Louisiana, the recidivism rate there dropped to 30 percent.

“The program makes the communities safer and prepares inmates to be taxpayers instead of tax burdens,” Stephens said. And fewer inmates go to lockdown because they want to complete the classes.

“I understand now that I need to find a way to think out situations and the effect my response to them may cause,” one inmate wrote about the class.

“Overall, this opportunity has been a win-win for the agents, the participants and the local sheriffs and detention center wardens,” Crawford said.

Mary Ann Van Osdell
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