The prison re-entry coalition’s next stakeholders meeting is set for 4:30 p.m. Aug. 31.
The Liberty County Re-entry Coalition Inc., a newly formed nonprofit that will help released inmates transition back into society, met with a group of its constituents Wednesday evening at Connection Church in Hinesville.
Many of those recently released from prison attending the meeting were allowed to express their concerns and offer feedback explaining the challenges they face as they try to seek housing and employment.
There were roughly 25 people at the meeting.
Daisy Jones, the city of Hinesville’s homeless-prevention program coordinator, moderated the meeting. She explained to the group that the coalition has held a series of stakeholder meetings throughout the year as the county works diligently in implementing the program locally.
The proposed county model would mirror Gov. Nathan Deal’s Criminal Justice Re-entry Initiative, which was launched in February 2014 and is overseen by Jay Neal, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-entry.
Jones told the audience that once the program is in place, men and women newly released from prison will have a place where they will feel welcome and will receive the proper assistance and guidance they need to get their lives back together.
The participants were asked to complete an assessment survey and, if they wanted, could do so anonymously by not providing their name.
Family members of some of those recently released went into another room so they could discuss any concerns or issues they wished to express about a recently released family member returning home and how that could affect their lives and family living situations.
Many in the audience spoke about the three main challenges they’ve dealt with since returning to society. Their top complaint was finding viable employment.
One man said most of his job options are minimum-wage jobs that barely help him support himself and his son. Another man pointed out that most applications are tossed out once an employer sees that they applicant has a felony conviction on his record.
Jones said officials have been working with local companies and are trying to get memorandum of understanding agreements that will make it easier for those in the re-entry program to get higher-paying and longer-term jobs.
Another man told the group that those recently released should be proactive in getting federally bonded so they will be more employable. Jones agreed and added that they should visit the local office of the Department of Labor and get work-ready tested as well.
Probation Officer Michele Freeny-Washington talked about her struggle in obtaining employment after an erroneous blemish on her record kept her from getting a decent job. She said it took a lot of time, effort and commitment to straighten things out. But she said she knew she had to commit to the process to succeed and have the job she has today.
She added that she started form the bottom and worked her way up.
“You have to be committed to do your part,” she said. “I was the first one in and the last person to go home.”
Some in the audience expressed how difficult it was to qualify for food stamps or school grants with a criminal record.
“We’ve been putting in the hours,” Jones said, letting the group know the re-entry program is committed to helping them clear all these hurdles. “We are in the midst of engaging employers. … We know action speaks louder than words.”
But Jones also said it was up to all in the room to make sure they did their part as well.
“Please don’t let us put all our energy and our time into building something and you not be responsive to what is on your plate,” she said, explaining that they will be the first in the community to receive the benefit of being supported by the re-entry program. “Please don’t blow it for those coming in behind you.”
The public is invited to attend the next stakeholders meeting at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Liberty County Justice Center.
Jones encouraged the audience to attend as well in order to express their concerns to the faith-based organizations, public organizations and business owners that are expected to be at that meeting.