Reentry Courts partner with Angola in effort to break cycle of recidivism

Approximately 15,000 state offenders are released from prison each year in Louisiana. Within just five years, nearly half will find themselves back behind bars.

While unfortunate, such a high recidivism rate is to be expected.

Many inmates enter prison lacking education and adequate work experience, complete their sentence, and are released with little more than a bus ticket. If inmates leave prison with the same skill set and values they arrived with, it should come as no surprise when they revert to their old ways.

Expanding Louisiana’s ability to provide reentry programming is one way to help break the recidivism cycle.

Reentry is defined by the National Crime Prevention Council as “programs that promote the effective reintegration of ex-offenders into communities when they are released from prison and jail.” Reentry programs may be educational, vocational, morally rehabilitating and/or socially rehabilitating.

Reentry Courts, a relatively new phenomenon, are defined by US Legal as “specialized courts that help to reduce [an] offender’s habitual relapse into crime and improves public safety through the use of judicial oversight.”

In Louisiana, Reentry Courts make use of the innovative reentry program at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola – known as the Offender Rehabilitation and Workforce Development Program. A closer look shows how it drastically reduces recidivism rates.

The first phase of Reentry Court includes judges, district attorneys, defense attorneys, social workers and officers conducting intensive analyses of offenders to determine whether or not they qualify for the Offender Rehabilitation and Workforce Development Program at Angola.

To be considered eligible, offenders must meet statutory and other requirements, including guilt of non-violent, non-sex crimes that would have resulted in a sentence of 10 years or less and the embodiment of contrition.

The Angola phase includes offenders undergoing the most comprehensive reentry programming in the country. While other prisons may provide light study of a reentry program as an offender is approaching release, Angola reentry consists of educational and vocational training, along with moral and social rehabilitation throughout the entire sentence, which is two years at minimum.

Offenders are able to earn their GED, and can learn and practice automotive technology, collision repair, welding, culinary arts, fiber optics, plumbing and many other trades. This is all while getting substance abuse therapy and developing soft skills necessary to become a productive member of society.

All Angola reentry programs are coordinated and facilitated by Angola “lifers” who have demonstrated outstanding leadership skills and have been nationally certified as “Vocational Mentors” and “Social/Moral Mentors.” Indeed, this unique mentoring opportunity is one of the reasons this program is hosted by Angola.

Once offenders complete their sentence at Angola, they are placed under the intensive supervision of the Reentry Court, which helps them find housing, a job, and overcome any obstacles that might otherwise lead to trouble.

Though still young, this reentry system is showing promising results, with a projected 10 percent recidivism rate (compared to Louisiana’s 50 percent mention earlier). The program gives offenders the opportunity to become independent, taxpaying individuals, rather than career criminals. Lower recidivism rates lead to safer communities and considerable state savings, as the cost of reentry programming is less than the cost of incarceration.

Further, reports suggest that lower recidivism rates lead to savings on future generations. Children with incarcerated parents are seven times more likely to end up incarcerated as well, so helping offenders return to their families and play a positive role can help keep their children out of prison.

Currently, Angola’s reentry program has about 75 mentors and about 130 mentees. This is a small fraction of the number of Louisiana inmates that will be returning to society with little to no preparation for success.

Fortunately, the Department of Corrections is currently expanding its reentry programming to facilities throughout the state. In addition, a growing number of judicial districts are electing to create Reenty Courts. All of this bodes well for Louisiana as the state seeks to address its nation-leading incarceration rate, and is good news for anyone concerned with public safety and fiscal responsibility in Louisiana.