Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2006

SJR 126: Prisoner Reentry to Society

July 27, 2006

The Joint Subcommittee Studying the Commonwealth's Program for Prisoner Reentry to Society, a continuing study pursuant to SJR 273, met on July 27, 2006, in Richmond. Senator Linda T. Puller will continue to serve as chair and Delegate John J. Welch III as vice-chair. Several speakers were invited to make presentations to the members and their complete testimony, handouts, and additional information may be found on the study website hosted by DLS.


Ellen Weston, DLS study staff, presented an overview of the authority and terms of the 2006 study under SJR 126, recommendations from the 2005 study, and described related 2006 legislation and budget measures. She also referenced the proposed study plan for the 2006 interim and pro-jected meeting dates for future discussion.

Barry Green, Director of the Department of Juvenile Justice, provided an overview of the re-cent budget amendments that impact prisoner reentry. He referenced status reports from the Department of Correctional Education and Secre-tary of Public Safety that have been mandated by the budget. The status reports on the implemen-tation of state jail transition programs and on state actions to improve offender reentry services are due October 16 and November 15, 2006, respectively. Mr. Green indicated that much of the funding awarded replaces federal grants that are expiring. In response to questions, Mr. Green described successful vocational training programs for inmates such as barbering and horticulture.

National Perspective
Keri Beth Cain - Policy Analyst for the National Governors Association (NGA)

Ms. Cain addressed the national picture, the growing inmate population, success in other states, and how Virginia has been selected for participation in the NGA Policy Academy on Prisoner Reentry. NGA continues to study and promote best practices in prisoner reentry through its Policy Academy. Ms. Cain described obstacles to reentry such as uncoordinated service systems, cuts in funding for prison programs, and both systemic and legal barriers. She set forth the following strategies for improve-ment:

• Develop interagency approach.
• Improve preparation of prisoners for reentry starting on day one.
• Improve how prisoners are released.

Ms. Cain indicated that Virginia was one of seven states selected for Round One of the NGA Policy Academy due to top-level sup-port, involvement by noncorrectional agen-cies, use of existing resources for new pur-poses, and funds designated for research and evaluation. Ms. Cain confirmed that Virginia also qualified for Round Two of the NGA Policy Academy in competition with 16 other states, and its programs have been awarded foundation and federal grants. Ms. Cain acknowledged growing national momentum and the Second Chance Act of 2005 to support prisoner reentry, which Congress recently considered, but has not passed.

Virginia Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy
Dawn Smith - Assistant Secretary of Public Safety

Ms. Smith introduced the Virginia Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy. Ms. Smith presented the recent Executive Order, whereby the Governor formally recog-nized the Academy and designated the Office of the Secretary of Public Safety to lead it. She described the origin of the Academy and its four subcommittees on the following subjects:

• Employment and Education
• Social Reintegration
• Health, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse
• Financial Obligations, Housing, Financial and Community Resources

Ms. Smith stated that present challenges include a lack of dedicated funding and staffing devoted to reentry.

Gwynne Cunningham - Director Special Programs Department of Correctional Education

Ms. Cunningham set forth many programs to promote employment of prisoners upon release. Virginia is one of only three states in which no agency serves as bonding coordina-tor for federal bonds to protect employers of former inmates. She also described the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) that pro-vides an incentive for employers to hire former inmates and indicated that the Department informs offenders about the WOTC in its Productive Citizenship curriculum, while the Virginia Employment Commission provides notice of WOTC to employers. Ms. Cunning-ham explained that promotion of reentry through national media campaigns is crucial to the process. Department services that are pro-vided to inmates include mock interview events, job/career fairs, college for juvenile offenders, university benefits for incarcerated veterans, business/education partnerships for vocational training, and career readiness cer-tificates. Members requested a report on “Restrictions to Employment for Individuals with Criminal Histories,” which is available on the study website.

Carol-Lee Raimo - Program Coordinator Department of Criminal Justice Services

Ms. Raimo, who is the co-chair of the Social Reintegration Subcommittee, reported on the status of objectives and programs, which include a handbook for inmates' family members regarding prison rules and visitation, a video project by offenders who are parents that reaches a total of 450 children, a contract for less expensive collect calls from inmates, parenting courses, the Milk and Cookies pro-gram for children of incarcerated parents, a Risk/Needs Assessment Instrument to track offender progress, preparation on emotional coping skills for reentry, and additional Transi-tional Therapeutic Community (TTC) beds. The Subcommittee plans to increase awareness of the prison visitation service, add family-counseling pilots, a support group for caregiv-ers of inmates' families, care packages from home, and help for inmates to obtain vital identity documents upon release. A member of the joint subcommittee suggested that Ms. Raimo include a crime victim on the Social Reintegration Subcommittee. Members also commented on the importance of parenting classes, visitation, and transportation services for families of inmates.

Dudley Bush - Substance Abuse Manager Department of Corrections

Mr. Dudley provided a brief overview of the Transitional Therapeutic Communities (TTC) program. He explained that TTCs provide a six month transition period within a community of substance abuse treatment. TTCs require employ-ment by the inmate or probationer and have dem-onstrated success in supporting recovery and re-ducing recidivism. Six current TTC providers are in operation in five cities: Harrisonburg, Newport News, Roanoke, Richmond, and Arlington. Separate programs for men and women have been most conducive to success.

Jane Brown - Director of Community Programs Department of Social Services

Ms. Brown discussed the Reentry Pilot Pro-grams and Local Reentry Councils that enable a wide range of government officials, faith-based organizations, and other community leaders to come to the table for positive dialogue on reentry measures. The Virginia Prisoner Reentry Policy Academy is conducting pilot programs in five localities. Each locality has a Prisoner Reentry Council that consists of the director of the local department of social services and representatives of interested public and private organizations. She explained that each locality has an assigned state correctional facility from which 25-50 offenders participate under individual plans developed 3-6 months prior to release. Reentry services offered by the pilot programs include family mentoring, parenting classes, education, job placement, and financial literacy instruction.

Public Comment

Randall Pepin of Virginia C.U.R.E. (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants), former inmate, and current graduate student, spoke before the joint subcommittee and submitted a report on successful offender reentry. Mr. Pepin, a convicted sex offender, credits his rehabilitation to psychological treatment during incarceration, combined with faith-based counseling. He asserted that a faith-based approach is necessary to change sex offenders. Mr. Pepin recommended mandatory group counseling paid for by offend-ers that would continue after release. Lillie Branch-Kennedy, Director of Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged (RIHD), a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing recidivism, described her work and recommendations. She described several RIHD programs that provide educational self-help and alleviate transportation problems between fami-lies and inmates. She advocates beginning reen-try services on day one, along with mental health and substance abuse treatment to pre-vent recidivism. Brenda Jefferson McLauren, Office Manager of RIHD and several other members of RIHD appeared for public comment, including Claudette Williams, Carolyn Suspene-Braxton, Marilyn Roberson, and Leonie May.

Kim Mummert, Virginia C.U.R.E. member and mother of inmate, implored the subcom-mittee to consider increased funding and incen-tives for inmate participation. She maintains that a percentage of the substantial expense in-curred by families to telephone inmates should go to funding reentry programs.

Work Plan & Future Meetings

The next meeting of the joint subcommittee will include presentations on mental health issues by the Health, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Subcommittee of the Policy Academy, transitional services provided by non-profit organizations, workforce investment issues, as well as public comment and a discus-sion of proposed legislation. The meeting will be held on October 26, 2006, in Richmond.

The Hon. Linda T. Puller

For information, contact:
Ellen Weston and Brenda Edwards, DLS Staff


Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2006

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