Local program to help ease former prisoners' transition back into society

2009-01-05T00:00:00Z Local program to help ease former prisoners' transition back into societyBy Cynthia Beaudette of the Muscatine Journal Muscatine Journal

MUSCATINE, Iowa — Every month, at least 25 former prison inmates come to live in Muscatine County following their release from prison.

Those men and women face a number of challenges as they reenter an environment that is so different than the structured,  confines of prison life.

Saturday morning, a group of seven residents from around the region came to a public meeting at Muscatine’s Jesus Mission Church to talk about making that transition easier through the non-profit, Reentry Aftercare program.

The program, which is based in Altoona and directed by Paul Harrison, provides training for people who want to be part of a three- to seven-member team that works closely with former inmates, helping them gain employment, access health care, form new social contacts and take care of family obligations.

Harrison discussed using the Bible and faith in God as a guide for assisting former inmates and using aftercare group members in helping make decisions and seeking encouragement. The team would be part of a criminal justice ministry, said Harrison, that relies on a spirit of forgiveness and discourages judgmental attitudes.

Reentry AfterCare also networks with community-based organizations and government offices, said Harrison who led the workshop with assistance by his wife, Tamyra Harrison.

Paul described the role trained volunteers play in providing recently released inmates with encouragement and resources to make an easier transition into a life outside of prison.

And there are plenty of people who need that assistance.

By the numbers

Harrison said the Iowa Department of Corrections Web site states that 32,893 of Iowa’s 2,982,085 residents remain on parole or probation after serving a prison term.

National statistics show that 67 percent of released prisoners return to prison, said Harrison.

An ex-convict’s success in re-entering society translates to monetary savings for society, Harrison pointed out.

He said that it costs approximately $24,000 to house an inmate for one year, and if the prisoner has children, it will cost about $9,000 to put one child in foster care the first year.

Harrison said that volunteers for the program don’t necessarily need specific skills; their experience

combined with the training

are the core of the team’s effectiveness.

“When people get together, you can come up with an answer for everything,” said Beth Foster, 49, a member of the Jesus Mission Church who helped set up Saturday’s workshop.

First things first

Harrison told the group about several government programs that can make life much easier for recently released inmates.

 For example, a newly released prisoner can provide  prospective employers with specific information that will assist the employer in receiving a tax break of up to $4,800 for hiring him or her.

Harrison described a driver’s license reinstatement program that became effective in Iowa at the end of 2007 that assists former inmates in getting their driver’s license back.

Harrison said many former inmates face steep unpaid child support when they leave prison, and that could be alleviated through a government program that allows ex-prisoners to modify their child support obligation during the time he or she is serving a prison sentence.

Members of a Reentry AfterCare team also help former inmates learn how to budget and spend money.

In prison, it can take up to two weeks for an inmate to order, pay for and receive a can of soda pop said Harrison.

“Can you imagine how dangerous it would be to fill a person’s pocket with cash, after they had been living with those conditions?” asked Harrison.

Sue Cox, 50, and Angel Bous, 38, both of Muscatine, attended the meeting together to learn more about becoming part of a local after care team.

Cox described the workshop as “eye opening.” “This is a very needed program in Muscatine,” she said.

The group and Harrison set a date for Saturday, Feb. 21, to host another public, meeting on forming aftercare facilitation groups. The public is invited to attend.

Reporter contact information

Cynthia Beaudette: 563-262-0527

cynthia.beaudette@muscatinejournal.com

Copyright 2015 Muscatine Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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