On April 29, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited Mobile, accepting an invitation from U.S. Attorney Kenyen Brown of the Southern District of Alabama to coincide with the Department of Justice’s National Reentry Week. Throughout the week, Brown’s office hosted events to highlight the work it has done to help convicted felons re-enter society after they’ve completed sometimes-lengthy prison sentences. Lynch stopped in Mobile to promote national efforts as part of a tour of the state that began with a visit to a federal prison in Talladega earlier in the day.
Local organizations including the Salvation Army, the Mobile Area Interfaith Conference, the Beautiful Gate Ministry, Light of the Village, Ransom House Ministries, City of Refuge and many others are part of a broader effort to help former prisoners regain social skills, resources and gainful employment. But Lynch used her appearance in Mobile to announce President Barack Obama had just signed a Presidential Memorandum establishing the Federal Interagency Reentry Council. The Council will lead the government’s work on the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals returning to their communities from prisons and jails, according to a news release.
Alabama particularly has its own issue with jail and prison overcrowding. U.S. Attorney Brown stated, “Many have asked questions about how Alabama can fix its broken criminal justice system. Some have suggested that the answer is to build new prisons. The only problem with this is if you build more prisons, in 10 or 15 years from now those places will be filled up and we will have the same problem.”
Maj. Mark Brown, the Salvation Army Area Commander, shared some details as to how his organization assists with re-entry.
“In partnership with the U.S. Attorney we are playing a major role in the re-entry success of ex-offenders. We provide housing, counseling, peer support, case management and step-down level of care.”
Mark Brown added, “In an array of complementary services we are supportive of getting their lives back on track, reuniting with family and ultimately, able to live and work back in the community and, most importantly, enjoy life again.”
Many of these organizations spoke about how they provide services to help those re-entering back into society. Providing and finding housing, writing a résumé and earning a GED are just a small scratch on the surface of all the services provided.
Ransom House is an organization that, like some of the others, helps in finding employment for those re-entering. Molly Brothers of Ransom House explained: “We have an eight-week job skills training, and we have students who we accept into our program through an application process.” The curriculum helps students develop a vocational plan, set goals, write a résumé, “and partner with a mentor who will follow them for about a year,” according to Brothers.
Once those who are in the program meet the criteria for graduating, Ransom House will continue to assist them by providing a network to employers and give recommendations to these potential employers. In preparing former criminals for employment, they also find employers that they believe will be the best fit for applicants.
“When you can do it on your own and you’re not dependent on the government or other people, then there’s such freedom, and when people walk into freedom they realize their purpose for their life,” Brothers said.
One of the big unresolved issues, U.S. Attorney Brown noted, was the need for more employers to join the effort to help the felons become successful.
“From 2002 to 2006, 262,000 federal prisoners were released,” he said. “For those who had no employment during the time of their supervising, which is generally about three years, 50 percent failed and went back to prison. For those who had jobs for part of that time, 88 percent were successful and did not go back to prison. For those who had a job for the entirety of that time, 93 percent were successful and did not go back to prison. So you can understand why we have workshops and job fairs, because employment is such a critical key to a person’s success.”
In addition, Brown also informed the public about an upcoming job fair in June, one he hosts periodically specifically for former inmates.
“By giving someone an opportunity to have stable employment you can save a life, a family and perhaps even more generations. We need as many employers who have positions to join us in holding our Formerly Incarcerated Persons Job Fair on June 2,” he said.
Among the crowd at an event at the Salvation Army April 26 were not only those who wanted to be informed or involved in helping with re-entry, but some who have completed or are going through a re-entry process right now.
Larry Rolison, a welding supervisor for Horizon Shipbuilding, is a successful product of a re-entry program. In his case, his training began before he was released.
“While I was incarcerated I’m working for them, so that when I get out, I’ve been out there and now I’m a supervisor there and I’m doing really well,” he said.
Erick Habersham, a co-worker at Horizon, is still incarcerated but is currently working through one of the training programs. “When you’re in prison you have to want to help yourself because nobody is going to give it to you on a spoon,” he said. “You have to want to help yourself, you have to be hungry for it and not only hungry for it, but whatever it is you decide to do, you got to love what you’re doing.”
Gabriel Tynes contributed to this report.