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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

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DOC task force helping former inmates
Probation officers collecting food, supplies and toiletry items
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Staff Photo by Stacey Hairston: Above are examples of items the DOC is collecting to help former inmates who need assistance re-entering the society.

Monday, February 18, 2013

By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer

Probation and parole officers in Franklin County are collecting non-perishable food, household supplies and toiletries for inmates who have completed their sentence and are re-entering the community.

The Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) has convened a Virginia Adult Re-entry Initiative (VARI) task force for offenders who find themselves in need of help with food, housing and employment upon their release from prison.

The mission of the VARI is to promote public safety and reduce crime by preparing offenders for success through a continuum of services and supervision in collaboration with state and local partners.

"Our vision is for every offender to successfully transition from prison to his or her community as a law-abiding productive member of the community," said Cynthia Hughes, chief probation and parole officer for Franklin County.

On May 11, 2010, Governor Bob McDonnell signed Executive Order Number Eleven establishing the Virginia Prisoner and Juvenile Offender Re-Entry Council and gave members the task of developing collaborative re-entry strategies.

Goodwill in Rocky Mount is working with the probation and parole officers by offering a voucher system.

"We accept donations of anything that the Goodwill would normally take," said Sherri Perez, Franklin County probation and parole officer.

Any items donated to the parole office by the community is taken to Goodwill. Goodwill, in turn, gives vouchers to the parole officers, which they can give to any offender in need. Each voucher is worth three shirts, three pairs of pants and one pair of shoes.

"We are really fortunate that Goodwill has partnered with us," said Perez. "Basically, offenders get out of prison with nothing but what they were wearing when they went in. With this effort, they are able to go straight to Goodwill and get started with a few items of clothing."

The VARI also offers help with employment.

"A lot of employers don't hire anyone with a felony on their record," said Hughes. "We have a re-entry council that is looking into getting with employers and trying to help them to understand why it is so important that these people find employment."

"Some of them don't even have suitable clothing for employment interviews. This is where the partnership with Goodwill Industries comes into play," she added.

The probation officers also have a collection of food, hygiene products, toiletries and household products available for offenders who are in need.

"Some of them re-enter the community with no way to feed themselves and nowhere to go," said Perez. "We can get them through until they can make arrangements for other help."

According to statistics on the VDOC website, the average state prison sentence is 45 months long in Virginia, and over 90 percent of offenders are eventually released back into local communities. Only 10 percent of incarcerated offenders will spend their lives in prison.

Among 36 states that report felon recidivism (a relapse into criminal behavior) and reimprisonment within three years of release, Virginia ties for the sixth lowest with a recidivism rate of 26.1 percent, according to the website. This means that, over a three-year period, almost 10,000 offenders recidivate, either because they have committed new crimes or because they have failed to comply with the conditions of probation.

The VDOC says this number represents new victims created, higher taxpayer costs associated with police and court processes and re-incarceration, unsupported families on public assistance and other negative social impacts.

McDonnell hopes the initiative will reduce victimization, improve outcomes for offenders returning to their communities, reduce costs to state and local governments and favorably impact recidivism.

Anyone wishing to donate items to the VARI can call the probation office at 540-483-0854 and arrange for pickup of the items.

Non-perishable foods, toiletries, household goods and hygiene products are being accepted, as well as items to be donated to Goodwill in exchange for vouchers.

Monetary donations are also welcome and can be sent to STEP Inc., P.O. Box 2015, Rocky Mount, Va. 24151. Make checks payable to STEP and reference "District 37 Re-entry account" in the memo section of the check.

"Re-entry is not an option," said McDonnell. "Collaboration with non-profit organizations, local community and other state agencies in re-entry is essential for success."

To learn more about the the VARI, visit www.vadoc.state.va.us.

 
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