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Mar 18, 2009
Governor Jindal Announces New Re-Entry Program for State Inmates in Parish Prisons to Reduce Recidivism Rate and Make Communities Safer

SHREVEPORT – Today, Governor Bobby Jindal joined Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc to announce that the state will be partnering with sheriffs in a program to better prepare state prison inmates for release and re-entry into society so they do not become repeat offenders. The Governor said that currently, inmates in state prisons have access to re-entry initiatives, but many state prisoners in local or parish jails do not have access to these services.

The partnership will expand re-entry services to state prisoners housed in local and parish jails by creating up to ten regional programs.  Governor Jindal emphasized that these re-entry programs will make Louisiana’s communities safer and will provide offenders with the tools they need to pursue lawful opportunities in their lives.

Governor Jindal said, “Too often, communities are not prepared to deal with the many issues that arise for released offenders, including the challenges they face to find housing, jobs, and handle their substance abuse problems.  And likewise, many offenders are not fully prepared to re-enter society and start anew once they leave prison.

“Without education, job skills, and other basic services, offenders are likely to repeat the same steps that brought them to jail in the first place.  This not only affects the offender, but families and our communities as well. This is a problem that needs to be addressed head-on. We cannot say we are doing everything we can to keep our communities and our families safe if we are not addressing the high rate at which offenders are becoming repeat criminals.

“By implementing this re-entry program, we can curb the cycle of repeat offenders and thereby reduce the burden on our prisons and help offenders create a place in society that adds value to their lives while keeping our communities safe for our families.”

Governor Jindal said on average 15,000 offenders are sentenced to the custody of the Department of Corrections each year and around 15,000 offenders are released back into the community each year. Further, he noted that the average offender in Louisiana comes into prison with a fifth-grade education and many have medical problems, mental health issues or grew up in difficult conditions. The Governor said these factors all contribute to a complicated re-entry process and can lead to a repeat offense.

The Governor noted that half of offenders in the state commit additional crimes or violate their parole and return to prison. In fact, he said Louisiana’s recidivism rate – or the rate at which criminals are repeat offenders – is approximately 50 percent after five years.

Governor Jindal pointed out that during Secretary LeBlanc’s tenure as the warden at Dixon Correctional Institute, intensive efforts in educational and vocational training, faith-based programs, and work release programs led to a five-year recidivism rate of just 36 percent. Secretary LeBlanc said he attributes this directly to effective re-entry programs he employed at that institution.

Currently, a variety of re-entry initiatives are already underway in state prisons. Governor Jindal said that while in prison, the offender has the opportunity to earn a GED, participate in vocational training and other programs, which include observance of faith and religion, psychological services and counseling, release preparation and other programs that teach life skills. State law today requires 100 hours of pre-release programming in resume writing, parenting skills, job search training, and more. 

The Governor highlighted that with the exception of a few local facilities, these services are not available to many state prisoners housed in parish and local jails. Further, he noted that this sizeable population consists of nearly half of all state prisoners.  Currently, there are roughly 20,000 inmates in state facilities and more than 18,000 on the local level. In total, 11,000 will be released from local prisons each year, while only 4,000 are released from state prisons.

Governor Jindal said that in order to fill this void in re-entry skills programming being offered at the local level, Secretary LeBlanc and the Department of Corrections will begin to contract with sheriffs to operate up to ten regional reception and re-entry programs specifically for state inmates housed in parish and local facilities. 

Governor Jindal said, “This partnership will be a long-term, phased-in initiative, with the goal of reducing the number of repeat offenders through better educational and skills training to prepare them for a more productive life in our communities.”

The Governor highlighted five critical goals of the new reception and re-entry programs. First, he said these programs will ensure that all state offenders have the same standard evaluation when entering prison. 

Second, a risk and needs assessment will be performed on all offenders to start planning a course of rehabilitative action. Third, offenders will be assessed for placement into various educational programs offered by the Department. 

Fourth, Governor Jindal said that all offenders leaving the system – from state or local facilities, regardless of their term or sentence – will be exposed to the same standard pre-release programming, which is currently only offered in state correctional facilities.  Fifth and finally, the Governor noted that these local partnerships will reach the shorter-term offenders who have a greater chance at successful re-entry when exposed to timely and productive training. 

Secretary LeBlanc added:  “Over the last year, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections has worked to strengthen and standardize educational, vocational, and pre-releasing programming for offenders in state correctional facilities.  However, nearly half of all DOC offenders are assigned to local parish and private jails across the state and, in most cases, don’t have access to educational programming and treatment services offered on the state level, which is quite a unique challenge compared to other states.  The addition of the Regional Reception and Reentry program concept will allow all DOC offenders the opportunity to take advantage of programs and services that will enable success upon release.

“Corrections cannot solve this problem alone and Governor Jindal and many of my colleagues in the Cabinet understand that.  It is only through partnerships with other state agencies—such as the Louisiana Workforce Commission, the community and technical colleges, K-12 education, DSS, and DHH—as well as faith-based organizations and community service providers that Louisiana can start to hammer away at its dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.

“Teaching basic literacy to offenders, teaching vocational skills such as carpentry or welding, providing substance abuse treatment – this is not being soft on crime.  It’s being smart on crime.  Having efficient and effective re-entry programming for DOC offenders on the state and local levels and in our communities through the Day Reporting Centers will lead to lower incarceration rates, lower crime rates, fewer crime victims and safer communities across Louisiana.  That’s a legacy to be proud of.”

How The Program Works

The Governor said the local reception and re-entry programs will serve two purposes. First, he said, when offenders enter jail – or what is commonly known as the reception process – they will be medically, mentally, and educationally evaluated to determine where they should be placed based on these assessment and security concerns.

Second, the Governor said that during the re-entry process, offenders will benefit from a 90 to 180 day training program that mirrors the 100-hour pre-release curriculum currently offered to offenders in state institutions.

Governor Jindal said up to 225 prisoners will participate at a time in each regional re-entry program, which will be conducted by the sheriff’s office.  Offenders housed in local facilities will still be routed to appropriate work release programs when eligible and will be offered this pre-release training prior to enrollment in work release. 

Standardized pre-release training will address the following mandatory topics: communications skills, job search and community resources training, substance abuse assistance, money management training, values development and character education, victim awareness, parenting and family relations counseling, housing resources and succeeding on parole.

The Governor said that in addition to pre-release training, the reception and re-entry program for offenders at the local level will provide much of what is focused on for those inmates at the state level – vocational and technical training in partnership with the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, GED prep and testing, literacy classes, residential plans, employment and partnerships with the Louisiana Workforce Commission, and a continuum of medical and mental health care services and substance abuse treatment via partnerships with the Department of Health and Hospitals and the Department of Social Services.

Implementing The Program

Governor Jindal said the long-term plan is to create ten regional reception and re-entry programs across the state over the next three to four years. The Governor noted in his Fiscal Year 2009-2010 Executive Budget, $1.1 million is included to establish and run the initial two re-entry programs – in Caddo and Orleans parishes. He also said this includes funds to pay sheriffs for each offender that participates in the re-entry program.

The Northwest Region Reception and Re-entry Program will serve inmates preparing for release from facilities in Caddo, Bossier, Webster, Claiborne, Bienville, Jackson, Red River, Winn, Natchitoches, De Soto, and Sabine Parishes. The Governor said that each year, approximately 1150 inmates will be released and served by the Northwest re-entry program.

Governor Jindal said that once the Caddo Parish facility is established, the Department of Corrections will look to launch the second facility in the Southeast Region – in Orleans Parish – later this year. The Governor said this will give the Department of Corrections time to troubleshoot any problems and fine-tune the program before expanding it to other regions.

Additional Programs Under Development By The Department of Corrections To Combat Recidivism

Governor Jindal also highlighted two other programs under development by the Department of Corrections. First, the Department of Corrections has a long-term plan to establish six Day Reporting Centers (DRC) in metropolitan areas around the state. Currently, the only Day Reporting Center in Louisiana is located in New Orleans, which opened in January of this year.  Governor Jindal said he has included approximately $450,000 in the Fiscal Year 2009-2010 Executive Budget to open a second Day Reporting Center to serve the Shreveport metropolitan area as well as approximately $450,000 for the facility in New Orleans.

The Governor said the idea behind Day Reporting Centers draws on evidence-based programming and best practices to intervene early with those former offenders who are close to losing their parole rights, as well as for those on probation. Additionally, he noted that Day Reporting Centers have a number of resources and services available to offenders to help them correct the behaviors that may lead them to potentially losing their parole and ending up incarcerated again.

Second, Governor Jindal said the Department of Corrections is working with sheriffs to re-negotiate what is known as Basic Jail Guidelines to strengthen re-entry programs. Basic Jail Guidelines provide the framework around which a local or parish jail must operate in order to house state offenders. This work will help strengthen the effectiveness of these re-entry programs as they begin to operate at the local level to reduce the number of offenders returning to prison.

Ongoing Plans And Programs To Address Recidivism

In addition to the re-entry programs, Governor Jindal also highlighted programs and services currently operated by the Department of Corrections to reduce the amount of repeat offenders in our prisons. First, the Governor said The Department of Corrections continues to improve re-entry programs in state prisons. Governor Jindal said the re-entry process in state prisons begins on day one and each offender is evaluated in order to design a plan based on their needs. Services offered include helping prisoners find housing when they are released as well as providing them with basic tools for a successful re-entry – such as forms of identification – that are important when applying for a job.

Second, Governor Jindal highlighted the work release program. He said that a host of jobs are available – from farm laborers to welders to off-shore cooks to heating and refrigeration technicians. The work release program consists of private-sector jobs with prevailing wages. 

Governor Jindal said, “Offenders pay for their own room and board and other incidental costs and it’s an opportunity for them to live in a less restrictive environment, learn a new skill or improve upon skills they may already have, and accumulate some savings that will help them upon release. Some offenders even keep these jobs after their release and in the end, work release makes for a smoother transition to our communities.”

Third, Governor Jindal said the Department of Corrections’ probation and parole program is in many cases, the state’s first and last chance to successfully prepare an offender to re-enter society. Currently, there are more than 63,000 offenders under supervision by the Division of Probation and Parole and the majority of this group was not exposed to any re-entry program.

Governor Jindal said, “That’s why it’s critical for this program to help offenders create a plan and offer services that will connect them with rehabilitative, education and employment opportunities.”

Fourth and finally, the Governor said the Department of Corrections is currently operating three fully-equipped mobile training classrooms at state prison facilities that have limited re-entry programming. The Department of Corrections secured a grant from the Louisiana Workforce Commission for re-entry efforts. Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds totaling $800,000 were used to purchase portable training classrooms to teach a number of skills to offenders being released in hurricane-affected areas after Katrina and Rita.

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