This is what I've been talking about. Giving people an opportunity to get some stability and a foundation under their feet is going to go a lot further than dumping them out on Smith Road. If re-entry starts the day you go to prison, then this is how it should end. This also gives the Department of Corrections a chance to get involved with re-entry. You can reduce expensive prison bed space by providing a place where people can help to pay for their incarceration and put real money into a bank account so that when they get released they have a foundation to start from.
Well-groomed and wearing shorts and a T-shirt, Alan Hammett doesn't fit the cinematic description of a jail inmate as he pushes a paintbrush.
But at the Bossier Parish prison facility, he is one of 113 "clients" working off the last years or months of their sentences.
Clients are how inmates who are employed as part of the jail's work release program are described. The center, just north of Bossier Maximum Security Facility, opened in 2006, and the first inmate began working outside the facility at an independent employer almost immediately.
Hammett was convicted of possession of methamphetamine Sept. 7, and a Bossier judge sentenced him to five years in prison at hard labor, with special conditions.
"Assuming he does everything he is supposed to do and doesn't violate any rules or regulations, his projected release date is Sept. 22, 2009," said Ed Baswell, spokesman for Bossier sheriff's office.
So Hammett will work off the rest of his suspended sentence doing maintenance work for Landmark Realty, living a mostly normal life with the exception of spending the night in a bunk with more than dozens others behind concrete walls.
"This beats sitting around a table at the main jail," Hammett, 45, said. "This gives me something to look forward to when I'm released. I'll have money and hope."
The work-release program is offered to nonviolent offenders completing the last three years of their sentence or, in some cases, serving sentences for offenses with shorter jail terms.
Participants' charges range from failure to pay child support to repeat driving while intoxicated arrests, drug possession and issuing worthless checks. Most inmates in the program come from Bossier Parish.
The work-release center also houses state inmates, as Hammett is a Louisiana Department of Corrections inmate. "We have more people applying for it than we can accommodate," Baswell said. "It has become a popular thing and word has spread."
An alternative to a traditional jail sentence, work-release programs allow inmates a much greater measure of freedom than they would have in the typical jail cell. They are taken to and from work by jail transportation, and they are monitored by the employer but not like the tight security in the prison facility. There are no handcuffs, shackles or surveillance cameras.
"This man (Alan), knows exactly what he is supposed to do and he wants to do it," said T.W. Alley Jr., owner of Landmark Realty. "Alan is a good guy, and he has made a mistake, but who hasn't? I trust him, and I trust him to go into my house by himself."
Alley applauds the program for providing good, dependable workers. He has hired at least six inmates.
"It's just a good source of finding people and everyone, no matter what mistakes they've made, are due an opportunity," he said.
Caddo Parish sheriff's office also has a work-release program. Sheriff Steve Prator initiated the program about two years ago for inmates at Caddo Correctional Center that are assigned to the Lousisiana Department of Corrections.
The program is of no cost to the parish. Inmates pay for their own upkeep, room and board and transportation, Prator said.
"It's really good for employers because they get dependable, drug- and alcohol-free workers," Prator said. "These are people who are going to be in our community very soon and this allows them to prepare for the transition."
The inmates in Caddo's program keep half of their money, and out of that the parish assures they take care of any child support and restitution obligations.
"We've had people get out of the facility who literally had thousands of dollars saved up," Prator said. "The inmates save money, and then the employers get tax breaks. It's just wonderful."
The program allows a way to slowly and cautiously place prisoners back into society, giving them an opportunity to re-enter the work force under supervision before reaching the point of full freedom of release.
"It allows you to ease in, instead of getting out of a cell and being thrown back into it," Hammett said. "I will have money and a job when I'm released."
Alley promised Hammett a job after his release. With jobs secured before their release, prisoners like Hammett have a more steady footing in adapting back into everyday life.
Hammett makes more than minimum wage, Alley said. But the pay scale is adjusted depending on the individual employer. Work-release inmates work, on average, 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday, Baswell said.
However the hours vary, according to the type of work they do.Construction is under way for a new work-release facility at Caddo Correctional Center that will hold 240 inmates. It's set to open in nine months.
Bossier has plans under way to expand it's facility to provide space for an additional 100 inmates.