People released from state prison will soon get more than a few bucks and a bus ticket when they get out from behind bars under a new federal grant program that aims to help ex-cons adjust to community life.
Forty-nine states will share $100 million in federal aid designed to finance programs that will give ex-cons education, job and life skills training and substance abuse treatment besides careful monitoring.
An estimated 600,000 offenders will be released from state and local correctional institutions this year. They often get into trouble with the law again: 67 percent of former inmates released from state prison in 1994 were charged with at least one serious new crime within the following three years, according to a recent Justice Department report.
"Re-entry programs aid in making sure these individuals will not return to a life of crime," Attorney General John Ashcroft said in announcing the grant awards July 16. The grants are part of the Justice Department's Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative.
Existing programs like the Re-entry Court in Fort Wayne, Ind., which provides both supervision and counseling for ex-offenders, are touted as the national model for helping released offenders.
Officials say Fort Wayne's Re-entry Court works-- only 3 out of 55 participants in the year-old program have returned to prison because it provides the offenders with resources such as counseling to make a life for themselves.
Using the federal grants, states will try to replicate Fort Wayne's success with programs that coordinate the efforts of prosecutors, prison staff, parole officers, workforce investment boards and other community-based service providers.
But "what works in Fort Wayne may not work in other places," so the federal grant program leaves room for states to figure out their own approach, said Cheri Nolan, deputy assistant attorney general for the federal Office of Justice Programs.
Wisconsin will use its $2 million grant over the next three years to help juvenile ex-offenders make the transition to community life. Six months before their release, young offenders will receive mentoring and if necessary, substance abuse treatment that will continue even after the offender is released.
"We knew that we needed to enhance the transition period," linking institutional living to the return home because of research showing juvenile offenders often commit repeat crimes, said Shelley Hagan, policy and grants coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Juvenile Corrections.
Reggie Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said the federal grants are important because successful re-entry programs will prevent crime and improve quality of life.
While the grants won't put more money in ex-offenders pockets as they leave the prison doors, "it does mean we can create a bigger venue of services to access when they leave our prison compound, so we do think there can be a direct benefit as well as an indirect one for them," Wilkinson said.
Nebraska was the only state that didn't apply for the funding.