Rehabilitation, not just incarceration, is the right goal
The Kent County Reentry Council celebrated its 10th anniversary on Tuesday at City Hall, an anniversary which wouldn’t have been possible if not for many people – from the five chiefs of the Kent County police departments to a half dozen help agencies – buying into the belief that those who have been incarcerated should not be given up on.
The council deals specifically with helping ex-cons and those given sentences of probation a chance to successfully reintegrate with society, providing resources and face-to-face communication through mandatory monthly meetings with people and agencies that can make a difference in how they are able to move forward positively from a run-in with the law.
Did the court mandate anger management or substance abuse counseling? A representative from Bridgemark or Anchor Recovery Community Center is there to help. The Department of Labor is there to provide tips and direction on find a job. Westbay Community Action is there to provide food assistance and clothing.
The council puts human faces and solutions to problems, which ex-cons and probationers once had to face all on their own. Probation officers, responsible for sometimes hundreds of cases at a time, benefit from the informational sessions as well, as they can better focus on building a relationship of trust with those who truly want to start over and make a better life for themselves.
Building a relationship of trust is another aspect of the program that can’t be overlooked. For somebody who just spent time inside the walls of a prison, establishing trust with anybody might be difficult. However the representatives can begin to rebuild that bridge simply by being there, telling them what they can offer – without any obligation – and wishing them luck on their journey to reentry.
George O’Toole, a case manager at Anchor Recovery, understands the situation of the people he now speaks to at the monthly meetings. He has been sober for seven years and spent about 20 years incarcerated for a variety of crimes. He said that, at his lowest point, his choices were to kill himself or try to turn his life around. He made the choice to try and live again.
“I am just one drink or one drug away from sitting in the same seat that you’re sitting in right now,” he told those gathered.
The Kent County Reentry Council receives no funding from the state or local communities. It operates entirely based on the participating organizations volunteering their time and resources to help those recently released from prison or put on probation.
In order to properly gauge the efficacy of the program, those who have gone through the monthly informational meetings should be analyzed to see what percentage re-offends, what percentage successfully reintegrates into society and what percentage still faces significant barriers that aren’t addressed by the hard, benevolent work of the council.
The council could conduct this research themselves with some modest funding from the state, a grant or charitable donations, or the Department of Corrections could step up and provide an updated study of recidivism rates in the state, including a special analysis of the Kent County model – looking for any notable differences in the recidivism rates between other counties which don’t utilize a similar model.
While the analytical efficacy of the program cannot yet be determined, tangibly the benefits of the program could be felt in the monthly informational session that was held at the Warwick Police Station on Tuesday. A woman, clearly affected by grateful emotion, thanked each representative for his or her time and for caring about seeing her succeed moving forward.
The Kent County reentry model shows that through collaboration, rehabilitation is possible following incarceration.