The Way Home: A path to freedom.

The Way Home, Inc.
P.O. Box 1103
Georgetown, DE 19947

Phone: 302-856-9870
Fax: 302-856-9871
Barbara@twhprogram.org

Wilmington News Journal, Thursday, May 10, 2007

Help inmates and ex-offenders so they stay straight on outside

by John C. Carney, Jr., Lt. Governor of Delaware

For the last two years, we have heard about the serious problems with inmate health care in Delaware’s prisons. This is important by itself, but there are other equally pressing issues for inmates and ex-offenders re-entering society.

Providing adequate health care in prisons is the morally right thing to do. The measures already implemented to improve our system — independent review of care by physicians in the Department of Public Health, hiring staff to monitor the medical contractor, evaluating staff levels, chart reviews — should help, as will additional steps being developed by the Department of Correction.

Improving prison health care is also the practical thing to do. So is job training, drug counseling and education that prepare more than 5,000 inmates to return to Delaware streets in any year. Effective re-entry programs can make the difference between an ex-offender becoming a productive citizen or returning to a life of crime.

Re-entry programs will save taxpayer dollars, reduce crime and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods.

That’s because the inmate population does not remain in prison forever. In fact, most of those sent to prison only serve relatively short sentences. When they are released, they return to the same neighborhoods they lived in when they committed the crimes that sent them to jail.

Back to the city

One of the major findings of the Wilmington Hope Commission, which I co-chaired, was that this population can have a serious negative effect in neighborhoods.

In Wilmington, the statistics are staggering. In 2005, more than 1,200 ex-offenders returned to one of three ZIP codes — 19801, 19802 and 19805. These neighborhoods are already dealing with society’s most difficult pressures, including poverty, single-parent families and violence.

Too many former inmates return with the same lack of education and skills that had a part in leading them to criminal behavior. Ex-offenders face the additional challenge of a criminal record, which impedes getting a job. Often ex-offenders find it difficult to find a place to live, because they are usually banned from public housing. And their health care and substance abuse treatment ends the day they walk out the prison door.

With so many obstacles to self-sufficiency, it’s not surprising that so many return to what they know — crime.

The Delaware Re-entry Roundtable last fall identified some of the biggest needs of ex-offenders, including coordination among agencies and organizations that provide re-entry support, transitional care for those with physical or mental problems, and more education and job skills.

Quality health care, job training and counseling, substance abuse treatment and a network of services outside of prison are necessities.

Following up on the recommendations of the Roundtable and the Hope Commission, in my role as the chairman of the Criminal Justice Council, I formed a Re-entry Subcommittee.

Members represent the Departments of Correction, Labor and Education, the Division of Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Mental Health and staff from the Criminal Justice Council.

I have directed this committee to evaluate programs in Delaware prisons, find ways to improve coordination and create more successful programs.

Re-entry programs working in other states.

The Way Home already has had tremendous success in Sussex County, with only three full-time caseworkers, no set annual funding and limited transitional housing at its disposal.

Way Home caseworkers begin working with prisoners before they are released. Needs can range from housing, transportation and money to clothing, food and counseling. The program creates a network of support for ex-offenders that includes civic and faith-based groups. Sometimes that requires meeting an ex-offender at the prison gate on the day of release and providing a ride to temporary housing and a few dollars to get started.

I suggested and the governor recommended funding in the fiscal 2008 budget to start to provide these services on a statewide basis.

Drug and alcohol treatment

Substance abuse affects about three-quarters of those who serve time in prison. One of the most effective programs in this area is Key and Crest. Key is for inmates, while Crest is for those going back into the community and serving time at a halfway house. There is also a community supervision component. For those who complete the program, there is a high rate of success. The basic idea is to instill responsibility and help ex-offenders take control of their lives.

As with most programs, Key and Crest have limited capacity. We need to expand the number of openings in programs proved to be effective. These are investments we can’t afford not to make.

We must aggressively enforce laws and police neighborhoods to keep people safe and secure. Criminals who violate the law must be punished.

At the same time, we must do a better job of rehabilitating inmates while they are behind bars so that when they get out, they will be less likely to offend again.

It is in all our interests to do so and should be a priority for our state.

Reprinted from the Wilmington News Journal

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