Tuesday, November 24, 2015

EDITORIAL >> Prison reform close to home

A halfway house may be coming near you if you live in Lonoke County.

Phillip Glover, the transitional/re-entry housing facility coordinator for Arkansas Community Correction, told the Lonoke County Quorum Court last week that the state is interested in funding a re-entry facility in the county for people who are released after serving their time behind bars.

He said the goal is to reduce recidivism rates by investing in individuals. The rate is almost 50 percent in Arkansas. The state would save millions of dollars a year by releasing prisoners early through the privatized program. The hope is that a private operator will come forward and make a facility available for prisoners to live in and train for a better future.

The facilities, Glover explained, house “inmates who are within a certain timeframe from their parole eligibility date” for six months. He said these people would be placed in the same counties they’re paroling to. So, once they’ve served their time in prison, they’re coming anyway, with or without a re-entry facility.

The state pays $30.62 per resident to the owner/operator. While working, the residents pay $14 a day for rent and utilities. So, for most of their stay, the facility owner/operator receives $44.62 a day. For a month that is 30 days long, that is $1,338.6 per resident.

The program is a cheaper deal for the state, Glover said, because housing someone in prison costs $63 a day. He has funding for 500 re-entry facility beds, but only 97 or 98 are available now.

For 21 days, the residents receive training and treatment for drug or alcohol addictions. On the 22nd day, they can go to work full time.

The training includes instruction on how to fill out a job application so that they get an interview, how to build their resume that includes experience gained in the real world and behind bars, how to pay bills, how to manage personal finances, get a GED, reconnect with family and get approved for an Affordable Health Care Act policy. Many programs are faith-based, so they include Bible study sessions, Glover added.

JP Adam Justice said after the presentation that he has an uncle who runs a similar program in Houston, Ark. “He’s got amazing stories that I’ve heard and guys that I’ve talked to and shook their hands, and they tell me, ‘Look, my life was in shambles, I’d been in an out of jail three or four times until I met Dennis, my uncle, he changed my life.’ And they’re grateful and living life, with their kids now. I’m all for this.”

Gov. Hutchinson and Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) have been among the advocates for prison reform and outsourcing halfway houses to private operators. We should soon find how much support the idea has in this community.