Prisoner reentry is more than just a buzzword used by policy makers and government officials – it’s an important social issue that affects all citizens. While many would prefer to deny that there are ex-offenders among us, there is no such thing as “not in my backyard” in our small state. With over 1,400 men and women on probation and parole from Woonsocket alone and over 26,000 in the entire state, it’s likely that ex-offenders are next to you in line at the store, living in your neighborhood, or dropping their children off at the same schools your kids attend. What makes more sense – to have a closed mind and insist that no services be provided to those who have done their time, or to face facts and take proactive steps to ensure the success of people coming out of prison and help them to avoid returning to the prison system? Without adequate support and resources, ex offenders wind up repeating past behaviors that led to their incarceration, creating a revolving door and costing you, the tax payer, thousands of dollars.
With the exception of two dozen men serving sentences of life without parole, the roughly 3,700 men and women in the state’s prisons and jail will be released to their home communities. Whether one likes or agrees with it, that determination is made by the terms of the offender’s sentence. Corrections professionals, law enforcement, community service providers, and other stakeholders are necessary partners to ensure a smooth and safe release so offenders don’t spiral downward upon release, commit more crimes, and create more victims. It is part of the Department of Corrections’ obligation as a public safety agency, in partnership with service providers on the outside, to afford some structure for life after prison.
Leadership Rhode Island, in partnership with the Woonsocket Prisoner Reentry Council, will convene a public forum to address the topic of Prisoner Reentry on Thursday, June 18th, 2009, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. in Harris Hall at the Woonsocket City Hall.
The program will begin with an introduction by a representative of the mayor’s office and Police Chief Thomas Carey of the Woonsocket Police Department. Peter Slom, a social worker at the Rhode Island Training School, will then deliver a brief keynote address on the state of prisoner reentry in Northern Rhode Island and will share his personal experience as an ex-offender reentering the workforce and community. He will be followed by testimonials from a community activist who is on probation, a paralegal on parole and working toward a BS in accounting at a public college in RI, an employer who has been proactive in providing employment opportunities for ex-offenders, and an attorney, Angel Tavares, a mentor and employer. WRNI Radio personality Roger Bouchard will then moderate a panel discussion of service providers and employers including representatives from Family Resources, Inc., Network-RI, the Woonsocket Prevention Coalition, the Woonsocket Housing Authority, Neighborhood Works Blackstone River Valley Housing, Tri-Hab, Inc., and the Department of Youth, Children, and Families (DCYF).
Members of the audience will be invited to ask questions and respond to presenters. Kathleen Swan, CEO and President of Leadership Rhode Island, will then do a brief wrap-up on what’s being done and what needs to be done about prisoners returning to the Woonsocket area moving forward.
State and local service providers including the Department of Labor and Training, the Woonsocket Housing Authority, Northern RI Mental Health Services, Tri-Hab, Inc., Family Resources, Inc., the Rhode Island Housing Authority, and employers willing to hire ex-offenders will have literature and applications on display during the event.
The Woonsocket Prisoner Reentry Council includes representatives from many sectors of the Woonsocket community including the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, the Woonsocket Police Department, faith-based agencies and area service providers. The Council in addition to this forum is looking at ways to enhance the reentry process. Case management meetings are also held bi-monthly regarding soon-to-be released offenders returning to the Woonsocket area. Discharge plans and specific concerns are discussed and reviewed by those presently working with the incarcerated offender and those who may be providing services when the individual returns to the community. Medical appointments, mental health/substance abuse treatment needs, housing and employment opportunities are important considerations. These pieces are critical to the success of reentry.
Leadership Rhode Island (LRI) is an independent 501(c)(3) educational foundation dedicated to creating and supporting a legacy of leaders for the state. LRI accomplishes this through offering programs to develop community leadership, such as the Core Program which has been offered annually since 1981. For more information about Leadership Rhode Island’s programs, visit www.leadershipri.org or call (401) 273-1574.
Members of the public interested in attending the forum are encouraged to call Michele Berkeley of the RIDOC’s Adult Probation and Parole Unit at (401) 235-1242 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of the press interested in attending should contact Chief of Information and Public Relations Tracey Zeckhausen at (401) 462-2609.