Do We Need Prison reentry Programs? In my estimation we do. When you consider Louisiana’s staggering number of people behind bars, any program that helps inmates reenter society as productive members of society is a good thing. Statistics show that 50 percent of ex-convicts end up back in prison within a short five year period. Louisiana’s prison system has a structure that separates our arrangement from that of other states.
In Louisiana less than half of all inmates are housed in state prisons like Angola, Dixon or Hunt. The rest serve out their time in the custody of a local sheriff, whether in their home parish, or somewhere else in rural north Louisiana’s prison belt. Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) has a large inmate population. Both the prison and the Sheriff have been in the news lately with negative connotations of rats, roaches, stabbings, etc. These are issues that are consequential and need correcting. Therefore, we do not want to give the impression that we are ignoring the problems that afflict the prison population within the Orleans Parish Prison walls. But is seems that not all is grim and desolate. Orleans Parish Sheriff, Marlin N. Gusman, has established a program that is shedding a shred of hope on the inmate population he holds in parish prison. Gusman launched a re-entry program about one year ago that seems to be working effectively.
Whereas before an inmate who completed his or her sentence was simply shown the door on release day, today there seems to be evidence to indicate that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office re-entry program for inmates can significantly reduce the number of offenders who return to prison. The OPP program is one of two re-entry programs like it in the state. Inmates learn skills like anger management, conflict resolution and money management. The programs offer education as well as lessons on decision making, job interview skills, anger management, computer skills and substance abuse counseling. Of course, these are basic steps, but without even this glimmer of hope and course correction these same inmates will simply return to form part of the inmate population once again. As a criminal defense attorney who has visited, and defended inmates housed in many, many of our state facilities, I applaud Sherriff Gusman’s efforts to give inmates something more than a cage in which to pay their so called debt to society. It is obvious to me that the way we have traditionally handled prison populations has not been effective and that more re-entry programs are necessary.
Let us then work to encourage more prison reform that include more and better programs that can improve the lives of inmates and their families, because unless we are planning on locking every inmate for the rest of their natural lives, then we most plan for their future. We want inmates to learn skills that will give them hope. An education is a proven path to a better future for inmates leaving prison facilities as is counseling and substance abuse. Not only does this help inmates, it also helps society as a whole and that is a good thing.