Attorney General Mark Herring announces inmate re-entry effort
Attorney General Mark Herring today announced he is creating a Statewide Re-entry Coordinator position and online Re-Entry Portal within the Office of Attorney General to, for the first time from the state level, help local sheriffs prepare inmates for release and connect them with support services on the outside.
In recent years, Virginia has developed a comprehensive plan to address re-entry and recidivism reduction for state inmates. However, local correctional facilities were left with little guidance or resources. Because of the autonomy of local jails, there has been no state-led or funded re-entry service, and localities cannot participate in state Department of Corrections’ programs.
“The problems that lead to crime and a jail sentence, whether it’s abuse, trauma, anger management, or addiction, are usually still present in offenders’ lives even after they serve their sentence,” said Attorney General Herring. “When provided with individualized case management, treatment services, opportunities to develop work skills, and support networks both prior to release and immediately after, a former inmate has a much better shot at success. We know more than 40 percent of our state-incarcerated inmates are convicted of new crimes within three years – and that’s with state re-entry programs in place. We have identified a gap in resources and coordination in our criminal justice system and will address it for the first time by offering local sheriffs our assistance in providing these services.”
Statewide Re-Entry Coordinator
The Re-entry Coordinator will identify and address service gaps and facilitate coordination between sheriffs’ departments and government agencies, other law enforcement entities, community organizations, workforce development programs, mental health services, faith-based organizations, private sector partners, domestic violence advocates, and others. The Re-Entry Coordinator can offer specific linkage to state agencies such as the Virginia Employment Commission, Social Services, Community Service Boards, Department of Behavioral Health and others. They can also help local jail facilities with existing programs identify ways to improve, including adding special focus on women’s issues, veterans’ issues, and family reunification.
“I applaud Attorney General Mark Herring’s decision to hire a re-entry coordinator who will serve as a resource for jails throughout the Commonwealth,” said Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan. “Enacting tough laws and locking offenders up is only two legs of a three legged stool. An effective re-entry program is an integral component to the public safety mission. 95% of all offends will return to our communities. An effective re-entry program gives us an opportunity to reduce recidivism, victimization and to actualize cost saving in both the correctional and human services budget.”
Online Re-Entry Portal
During the first phase of this project, the Re-entry Coordinator will collect data and materials to create an online reference tool called The Re-Entry Portal. It will have best practices in the re-entry field, examples of efforts around Virginia, what methodology is working and what isn’t, and a consistently updated clearinghouse of what resources and grants are available. It will also have printable, region-specific materials that Sheriffs can make available to inmates as they are released so they know where they can go for services.
“Re-entry services are essential to the transition process for offenders,” said Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur. “Not only do such programs help ensure success for those returning to society but they also save our localities money. In Arlington, 68% of individuals who complete our re-entry program do not reoffend. I’m happy the Attorney General understands the importance of programs for those incarcerated in our jail and will be lending support to Sheriffs. I look forward to working with him and his office on ways to improve re-entry throughout jails in the Commonwealth.”
New Resources for Women Inmates
Another alarming gap in Virginia’s efforts to help inmates transition back into society is that many re-entry programs don’t have female participants, and there is a lack of services dedicated specifically to female re-entry or reducing women’s rates of recidivism. Incarcerated women are more likely to have been victims of physical and sexual abuse and have related mental health and substance abuse problems – increasing the likelihood that counseling and addiction services can help them.
“Common sense and compassion dictate that we do more to specifically offer transitional help to women inmates, who are in many cases the sole support for their children,” said Attorney General Herring. “The lack of support for women inmates as they are released has been a tragic oversight in Virginia.”
Building on the Work of Sheriffs
Re-entry programs are proven to reduce recidivism, save taxpayers money by investing in more affordable support programs instead of hugely expensive re-incarceration, and make our homes and neighborhoods safer. Several Virginia sheriffs have taken the initiative to create and operate their own re-entry programs, working with very limited resources to provide services ranging from mental health and substance abuse treatment in jails, to parenting classes and events, and helping inmates stay connected by video with their families.
“I believe even though you have been in a place where it has not been comfortable, now you can make the decision to change your life,” said Petersburg Sheriff Vanessa Crawford. “It’s all up to you – and that is what re-entry is all about. Attorney General Herring is keeping his promise he made to us at our Re-entry Forum, that his office was here to offer support for our work to reduce the incarceration rate. This partnership with the Sheriffs is going to make a huge impact and allow us to build on the work we’ve already done.”
Sheriffs have had to largely rely on volunteer organizations, faith-based groups, private donations and grant funds to establish and operate their own re-entry programs. Even as some jails have forged strong partnerships with allies in the field, others are still struggling to find the resources or expertise to start a re-entry program. Without assistance from the Commonwealth and with no current best practice, sheriffs have had to essentially “re-invent the wheel.” The Re-Entry Coordinator office can dramatically reduce that burden.
Regional provider partnership programs are starting to meet the need by creating joint funding possibilities for local facilities and their providers. Attorney General Herring’s office is also helping with these efforts.