Finding a job and housing are two major challenges for people seeking to re-integrate into society after being released from prison.
A third major challenge is education, a lack of which often hinders people from finding good-paying jobs.
Education was the focus of the Liberty County Prison Re-entry Coalition Inc.’s stakeholders meeting Monday at the Liberty County Justice Center. This was the group’s fourth stakeholders meeting.
While prior meetings centered on creating partnerships with faith-based agencies, local employers, transitional housing and fostering the growth of the program to succeed, this meeting taught the group a few lessons learned from a similar re-entry group based in Savannah.
Dr. George P. Lee, the community coordinator for the Savannah Prison Re-entry Program, said his group knew it would face challenges in the areas of employment and housing, but added that education was something that was brought up quite frequently.
He said that depending on the type of felony, or when it occurred, a newly released people may have a difficult time in financing further their education. He added that group has come across situations in which these people didn’t feel comfortable telling their parole officers or family members that they never completed their high-school education.
He said the best lesson learned was that reaching out and simply offering help usually created a level of respect between the newly released and those seeking to assist them.
“We aren’t their probation or parole officers,” Lee said, adding that the re-entry group members initiating this conversation about education enabled those re-entering society a chance to speak their mind without fear of judgement or reprisal.
He said something else they had to do was work diligently with the Chatham County District Attorney’s Office. He said they worked hard in getting the DA and assistant DAs to listen to some concerns of released felons, especially those with child support issues.
Many come out of the system owing money and may fear showing up in court without the available funds to get caught up.
They fear that would mean immediately being re-incarcerated. By reaching out to the DA’s office, many have been able to work side by side with the attorneys in learning how they can make payments or meet their legal needs to the satisfaction of the state. This also enabled the prosecutors to look at the released felon in a different light.
Lee said his group was fortunate to be able to work closely with Coastal State Prison, which is a transitional facility for those about to be released. One thing his group has learned was that it’s far better for the members to go in and meet with those preparing to re-enter society instead of waiting for them to be released and reach out to the re-entry group. He said that has enabled re-entry group members to help them address many areas in which the state can assist released felons, such as ordering a birth certificate, taking GED courses or getting a driver’s license issued.
He said the best lesson learned was for re-entry group members to be gracious, listen well, be patient and understand that they are not to stand in judgement of their fellow human. He added that it also is just as important to step back from those who don’t want assistance.
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, addressed the crowd that consisted of local nonprofit organizations, employers, church members and members of the public — a few of whom were recently released from prison into Liberty County.
Williams praised the work that Hinesville Homeless Coalition Director Daisy Jones has done to get the program organized and started. He also praised Liberty County Sheriff Steve Sikes and the Liberty County Board of Commissioners for giving the program the go-ahead when it was just a concept in 2013.
He added that the Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorneys’ Office, which serves Liberty County, was on board and receptive to supporting the program.
Jones said another meeting will be announced soon.