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Va. helping citizens re-enter society after incarceration

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Staff Report

Virginia has launched the state’s first online re-entry portal, which provides a “one-stop shop” to help citizens pick up their lives after incarceration.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring recently announced the launch of VirginiaReEntry.org, a site that offers resources to help formerly incarcerated individuals return to their communities and lead successful lives.

“When folks who are transitioning back into our communities are given the resources they need to be successful, well-adjusted members of society, it not only helps them but it also makes our communities safer and saves taxpayer dollars,” Herring said. “This first of its kind portal offers something for everyone by providing information and resources for sheriffs, re-entry organizations, potential employers, community and family members, and those who are returning to society.”

Ninety-six percent of incarcerated individuals will eventually return to their communities, which is why strong, comprehensive re-entry programs and resources are so important, the attorney general’s office said in a news release.

When people transitioning back to the community are provided individualized case management, treatment services and support networks — both prior to release and immediately following incarceration — they have a better chance at success, Herring said. “If ex-offenders re-enter their community with the same underlying trauma, addiction or anger it can make communities less safe and perpetuate a cycle of re-incarceration that costs taxpayers money and strains families.”

According to the news release, when Herring began his first term in 2014, he saw that the state had developed a comprehensive plan to address re-entry and recidivism reduction for inmates who left state prisons, but there was no coordinated programming or assistance for local and regional jails. “He made it a priority to provide the first-ever state-level assistance to coordinate, expand and improve re-entry efforts in local and regional jails, including the hiring of DeVon Simmons as Virginia’s first local jail re-entry coordinator.”

The re-entry portal provides resources for sheriffs, jail administrators and staff, non-profit organizations, faith-based volunteers, potential employers, treatment service providers, legislators, judges, media, family members and returning citizens.

The comprehensive website includes information on best practices in the re-entry field and examples of efforts around Virginia; grant information; training; and resources for families and communities to help their loved ones re-enter society in a productive way.

Resources for Sheriffs and Jails

The portal provides information on the Office of the Attorney General’s suggested re-entry model, known as the Transition from Jail to Community (TJC), which was developed by the National Institute of Corrections in partnership with the Urban Institute. “This model achieves the goals of enhancing public safety and reducing recidivism through a systematic and collaborative approach.”

There’s also a “What Works in Re-entry” clearinghouse, which includes research on the effectiveness of a wide variety of re-entry programs and practices. Additionally, there is information on DMV Connect, a program that was originally created to provide identification cards to incarcerated individuals pending release, as identification is necessary to secure jobs, open bank accounts, enter public buildings and apply for benefits, according to Herring’s office.

Resources for Families and Returning Citizens

“Re-entry can be a time of positivity, but also stress for both the returning individual and their family. To make the transition as smooth as possible it is important to use every resource available,” Herring said in the news release.

Some suggestions include:

• If a returning citizen has a probation officer, he or she can be a great source of information.

• Community Corrections, part of the Virginia Department of Corrections, provides supervision and services for probationers and parolees and is a good source for general information.

• The Family Engagement page of the Virginia Department of Social Services Re-entry Councils offer a variety of services.

Employer Advantages

“Employment is a pillar to successful re-entry and motivated employees are a lynchpin to successful business,” Herring said in the news release. “Hiring returning citizens has proven beneficial to employers.”

For example:

• Ex-offenders whose crimes are long in the past pose no greater risk than people in the general population, according to the attorney general’s office;

• Returning citizens have a network of support to aid in their success;

• Federal programs add additional security by bonding employees; and

• There are tax incentives to hire returning citizens.