Olivia Matherne / News Editor
The Southern District of Alabama, a segment of the United States’ Department of Justice, has implemented a re-entry initiative for prisoners entitled, Project H.O.P.E. (Helping Offenders Pursue Excellence).
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there are currently 2.3 million people incarcerated in prisons and jails across America. Approximately 30,000 of those inmates are held by the Alabama penal system, which is the 5th highest incarceration rate in the U.S. according to Prison Policy Institute.
Since many of the offenders in jail today will return to the communities from which they came, programs to assist ex-convicts in transition into society are crucial. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that two out of three former inmates will return to prison within three years of their release. However, Project H.O.P.E. is trying to curb this growing trend and provide adequate provisions for those leaving their sanction in a penitentiary.
It does appear, due to the increasing number of services dedicated to solving this specific problem, as though Alabama government and business sectors have taken notice of the negative effects of neglecting this specific marginalized group.
According to their mission statement, Project H.O.P.E seeks to address the needs of re-entering ex-offenders in order to make their transition back into mainstream society a success. The government-funded plan focuses specifically on “housing, educational and employment,” according to the United States Department of Justice. Through the creation of these programs, Project H.O.P.E proves a restorative vision “gives ex-offenders a chance to become good citizens,” according to the United States Department of Justice.
In a separate but similar endeavor, the Alabama Department of Corrections has an established re-entry and re-release program. Their mission is to provide an opportunity for inmates to gain basic living skills on how to successfully transition back into the community after release from corrections. Neither governmental effort pages offer specific examples of inmates finding successful or useful assistance from these, but that is not to say many cases such as this do not exist.
Besides this, local non-profit organizations have been created over the past several years to help serve convicted people, and in turn, the community and economy as a whole. For example, Alabama Justice Ministries Network is a faith-based organization and has established itself primarily with the Alabama state prisons and metro Birmingham jails, according to their official website. Similar to the objectives of other government-sponsored programs, their website says the organization’s central goal and mission is to provide services necessary to assist ex-offenders to best gain and retain employment opportunities.
The AJMN, however, views their work through a particularly different lense as compared to the government. Despite the reality that the practical application of their organization is comparable to that of any other focused on the rehabilitation of ex-convicts, their focus is split. As should be assumed by the title of the Alabama Justice Ministry Network, their programming is rooted in an attempt to bring about cooperation among ministries for the purpose of more effectively spreading the message of God’s saving grace to those affected by crime, according to their mission statement.
To further pursue the aforementioned objectives, the Juvenile Justice Task Force was formed with a specific focus on protecting and providing for minors in the penal system. Through a sponsorship from Jefferson County entities, law enforcement and health care providers, the group of women have started a conversation emphasizing growth and rehabilitation,’ according to a sponsored article in Bham Now.
Executive director, Monique Grier, said that founding members formed the committee’s goals by asking several important questions such as “What services can we bring to (residents) and their families that will benefit them: while they’re here, as they transition out and prevent recidivism?”
“A lot of people leaving jail need help, what these businesses are doing will really benefit so many people,” Samford sophomore Kylie Pitt said.
Whether it is for the betterment of community, economy, or to pursue personal and religious convictions, the volunteers for these organizations seem to believe it is in the best interest of every person to assist in the efforts of welcoming former inmates back into society.