Keeping people out of jail after they've served their time is often a matter of connecting them with resources in the community, which can help them find and keep a job while they meet probation requirements and reestablish family connections. It's also a matter of helping inmates change the way they think, so that they're ready to receive that help once they are released.
1st Sgt. Allen West, II, with the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center, or ADC, said that the new Re-Entry Dorm Program at the ADC aims to get people, who are to be released from jail within 90 days, help in recognizing the behavior that got them into jail in the first place. "We're working to change their cognitive behavior. We're doing assessments. We're offering help with nutrition, health and financial issues. We're doing job readiness. We're doing resume preparation and so much more."
The program, which provides structured living in a dormitory setting, started in November 2016 and stems from recognition that inmates could use preparation for life outside of incarceration before they're released.
Peggy Anthony, a state chief probation and parole officer who serves the Prince William Area, said the approach is forward-thinking and she thinks it will work. "It starts working on their thinking before they get released, so that when they get out, they already have that mindset of not going right back into the same things they had done before. Research has shown that inmates who have reentry services prior to release and have the ties to the community can make a smoother transition."
Research also shows that providing services before release keeps people from returning to jail and saves money, Anthony said. "The recidivism rate is much better when people receive these kinds of services prior to getting released. Spending time in jail is costly. It will also reduce crime over the long run."
Once they're freed from jail, the next step for former inmates is to seek help from the Greater Prince William Re-Entry Council, which has been working with the Dorm Program since its inception. The council consists of 35 to 40 state and local agencies, along with religious groups and non-profits, which help in a number of ways to aid former prisoners as they work to reintegrate into the community.
That reintegration can be difficult, Anthony said. "Coming back after being in jail, losing your family, losing your job, losing your connections is really hard. It's rough to get out of jail and go right back to the community."
The council works by pairing former inmates with organizations that can offer tailored help with finding shelter, developing employment skills, providing clothing if it's needed, and making sure the former inmates receive any medications they need. Other members of the council might aid in getting former inmates food stamps, if needed, and directing them to counseling and treatment for substance abuse.
Anthony said that the council is about educating the offender and letting them know that services that are available. "It's about connecting the inmates to the resources."
Steve Austin, Prince William County's Director Criminal Justice Services said the council helps people develop good solid release plans that will help them be successful when they get out of jail. "If people don't have services when they get out, they can easily fall back into the life that brought them into jail in the first place."
Austin said the government needs the community's help, though. "A government entity can't really fix the problem by itself. You need partnerships. What reentry does is builds on the strength of the community – non-profits, churches, faith-based organizations – working with people that are involved and with the people that are getting out."
Anthony said there's another good reason for the program. "They're in jail, but jail and prison are short-term," Anthony said of the people who will eventually be released from jail. "They're coming back to the community and you want them to come back prepared," Anthony said.