Jobs are needed to reduce Leon County’s high crime rate!
By Lucretia Shaw Collins
Special to the Outlook
Believe me, I have no compassion for people who have committed an act of violence or a heinous crime against another with no remorse or regard for life! There is evil in this world and there are those who deserve to be locked up — never to be released — but the reality is – over 90 percent of inmates will serve their sentences and will eventually be released back into our community!
Undoubtedly, most of us know someone who has had an encounter with the law. According to the Department of Corrections, as of March 31, there were 4,600 offenders on probation in the Big Bend area (Leon, Gadsden, Jefferson and Wakulla counties) and an estimated 1,000 who will be released from prison every year returning to this community. They are leaving a “physical prison” to return home to an “economic prison” because of a lack of job opportunities. Many do not have a safe place to live thereby returning to a neighborhood that is unhealthy for recovery. They may still be suffering from a drug addiction and/or mental health problems. What do we as a society do to offer hope to those “returning citizens” to reduce the likelihood of them violating probation or committing another crime sending them back to prison?
One solution to the high crime rate in our community is to invest in what has been proven in other parts of the state to be successful in reducing recidivism, saving tax dollars, and creating a safer community – REENTRY PROGRAMS! The Department of Corrections must expand its job training programs to prepare inmates for “life after prison” and communities must be receptive to offering employment to ex-offenders. The Bethel Ready4Work-Tallahassee Reentry Program (R4W) is exactly the type of initiative designed to assist ex-offenders who face unbelievable challenges to regain their dignity and become law-abiding, productive, taxpaying members of the community.
Bethel R4W is modeled after Operation New Hope (ONH) in Jacksonville, a nationally recognized reentry program known for providing job training and job placement opportunities for ex-offenders. ONH is built on the ideal that offenders are less likely to re-offend when they are stable and gainfully employed. This program has had a 70 percent job retention rate and a recidivism rate that is 50 percent lower than the national average thereby saving millions of dollars each year in the cost of incarceration.
The Bethel program provides employability skills training, job placement assistance in addition to continuous screening for illegal drug use. Every client receives a mental health and substance abuse assessment, transitional housing, if needed, weekly bus passes, clothing for interviews, case management, job coaching, and life coaching/mentoring.
Not only has the Legislature and Governor provided funding for this initiative, the City of Tallahassee has invested along with our new Sheriff who has voiced his support and spearheaded similar reentry efforts when he served as Secretary of the Department of Corrections.
Right now, what we need most are clients ready to commit to the program and businesses ready to hire our clients. Several have made financial commitments and have offered employment but we need more business partnerships.
Since the Bethel Ready4Work Reentry Program opened its doors in November 2016, lives have been transformed — not just the lives of offenders but our lives will forever be changed. Please join us in this transformational journey and offer a job to our citizens!