Prisoners who soon face a life of freedom and have no idea how to prepare for a return to the streets will get some sorely needed help from a new re-entry guide compiled by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.
The guide, "Getting On After Getting Out: A Re-entry Guide for Colorado," was released last week and is packed with 200 pages of helpful information which took author Carol Peeples and coalition volunteers three years to compile.
With the help of Correctional Industries, 20,000 free copies will be distributed to state prisons and then be distributed to inmates and parolees by case managers. The guides were printed thanks to $60,000 in donations from the Piton Foundation, Denver Foundation, Daniels Fund and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
"We are ecstatic to provide so many copies, but it only covers two-thirds of the people in prison or on parole and doesn't account for the 900 people a month that are new admissions into the prison system," said Christie Donner, executive director for the reform coalition.
"As part of any prison reform, we need to find ways to keep parolees from coming back to prison," Donner said. "We keep getting reports over and over again about the barriers these parolees face - they are quickly overwhelmed with dread, depression and hopelessness because they are told ‘no’ on jobs and housing or if they do get a job they have such low pay they can't meet all their expenses."
"It becomes a huge pit of expenses and it's a hole they can't dig out of, so they become noncompliant. Many start using drugs and alcohol again to drown their sorrows," Donner said.
The newly released parolees are faced with restitution costs, required class fees, drug and alcohol screens, child support, medical and cost of living expenses and they don't have identification, work clothes or a place to stay. The "Getting On" guide is designed to help inmates before their release by preparing them to go before the parole board, plan their release, take care of unresolved legal matters and other things they can still tackle while in prison.
"The inmates can't prepare a lot of times because they can't access the Internet and the case managers are having a hard time because they themselves don't have contacts they can network with on the outside," Donner explained.
Once inmates are out on their own, the guide covers everything from getting off the bus to getting clothing, plus finding mentors, work and housing.
One parolee told the coalition volunteers, "I was afraid. I felt like I was from another planet after doing 7 years. I was lost - trying to remember phone numbers and addresses was a nightmare. The only number I couldn't forget was my Department of Corrections number."
An unfortunate statistic indicates most people released from prison are not successful. Last year, 10,087 people were released from state prisons in Colorado and for those released on mandatory parole, 65 percent will be revoked and returned to prison within three years.
"The number one issue those who failed on parole bring up is that they were not prepared for release. We hope to fill that huge information gap and dispel some myths and misinformation that is circulating that some inmates make their plans on," Donner said.
"The guide is a much-needed tool in the effort to reduce recidivism and impact the revolving door," said Ari Zavaras, executive director for the Colorado Department of Corrections. "The book will keep offenders focused on re-entry from Day 1 to parole and through to release."
Those who wish to purchase a re-entry guide can order online at www.ccjrc.org/reentry-guide.html. Orders also can be placed via phone at 303-825-0122.
Cost is $10 plus shipping. If a guide is purchased for an inmate, the reform coalition needs to mail the guide directly to the inmate to meet state guidelines.
"Ideally, we would like this to be a part of the orientation packet and keep it on an ongoing basis. By selling guides, it will help us reserve funds to reprint the guide so we can continue to distribute it to inmates and parolees," Donner said.
The Pueblo Chieftain