State gets $1.5M in grants to ease inmates’ re-entry into life ‘outside’

DOVER — More than 15,000 people are released from Delaware correctional facilities every year, and many of those are forced to fend for themselves after they’re out of custody, advocates say.

While they may want to start their lives over and make an honest living, many lack some of the things most Delawareans take for granted, like a photo identification, a savings account or even a basic set of skills that make them employable.

Some inmates are simply unprepared for life on the outside, especially those who have spent years in jail.

Either way, they often feel forced to turn back to crime and end up in prison once again — something Delaware is desperately hoping to change.

The state announced Tuesday it has been awarded two federal grants totaling $1.5 million, which it will use to expand prison re-entry programs. Gov. John Carney and correction officials pledged to use the funding to implement new programs and expand others with the goal of reducing recidivism.

Among the initiatives will be providing limited financial assistance for individuals on probation, giving inmates job know-how and broadening treatment initiatives.

Recidivism has long been an issue for the First State: According to data from the Statistical Analysis Center, about 70 percent of inmates released from a Delaware prison from 2008 to 2014 were reconvicted within three years.

The state also has a greater share of probationers and incarcerated adults than the nation as a whole, per the governor’s office.

Gov. Carney, a Democrat, highlighted the issue last week in his State of the State speech, urging Delawareans to support efforts to better prepare inmates for life on the outside. In December, he signed an executive order creating a committee to help coordinate re-entry services.

“We’re creating individualized plans for each inmate incarcerated in Delaware. The goal is to give them the drug treatment, education and job skills they need to survive on the outside,” the governor said in the State of the State.

“The bottom line is really quite simple: over 90 percent of inmates will eventually leave prison. They’ll be standing next to you in line at the Wawa or at the mall. We need to make sure they’re better off when they leave prison than when they got there in the first place.”

The grant funding will help Delaware implement previously crafted strategies to prepare criminal offenders for release. Officials are also hopeful it will enable them to close gaps in the state’s correctional system, better determine which inmates are most likely to reoffend and provide more training for department staff.

“This case management partnership will help us expand our geographic reach so that these probationers who need additional help finding work, finding housing and coping with life on the outside can get a supportive case manager,” said Joanna Champney, chief of the Department of Correction’s newly restructured Planning, Research & Reentry Unit.

“Secondly, DOC will be partnering with DelTech to offer job training and construction skills for inmates who are housed at the Plummer Center, with subsequent employment at 2 Fish home construction. This results in a livable wage and job skills that are in high demand.

“Third, Probation and Parole will be providing financial subsidies to a limited number of probationers needing support with housing and transportation costs. Housing stability is a huge factor that influences a probationer’s success. Probation officers will be able to obtain one month’s rent for eligible probationers, and bus passes will be provided to those eligible probationers.”

The new initiatives will be overseen by the Delaware Correctional Reentry Commission, created last month by the governor, and the Planning, Research & Reentry Unit in the Correction Department.

“All of this represents a sea change in what works in re-entry. Evidence-based re-entry, at the end of the day, needs to improve public safety and a better quality of life for the men and women leaving Delaware’s correctional facilities,” Chief of Community Corrections Jim Elder said.

While bringing down the recidivism rate is its own reward, there are other benefits. Most notably, reducing the prison population is a stated goal of just not Gov. Carney but other officials, including new Attorney General Kathy Jennings.

As of June 30, 2017, 5,500 individuals were imprisoned in Delaware, with slightly less than 10 percent of those serving life.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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