Felons face obstacles when released from prison

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NOBLE, Ohio (WKBN) – At this very moment, 50,000 people are behind bars in Ohio state prisons.

Some day, many will complete their sentences and go back home to their communities. But nearly 30 percent of those former prisoners will find themselves back behind bars.

The number one problem many face is finding a job. Organizations like Youngstown’s Community Initiative to Reduce Violence are helping felons. C.I.R.V. has a new program to help ‘returning citizens’ find work and new lives when they leave prison.

“It is very hard. When you have a record, it follows you. That is why we are so heavy on prevention. My wish is that young people don’t make those choices,” C.I.R.V. Director Guy Burney said.

Former Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Patrick Kerrigan was convicted on bribery and obstruction charges in 1998 and served 19 months in federal prison. He said the hardest part of coming back into society was trying to find work.

“Although I had skills, as a judge, as a lawyer, as a writer, as a scholar, I could not get a job with anybody trying to write briefs or help do research or any of those kinds of things,” Kerrigan said.

The lack of a way to make a living sends many felons back to prison, most of them within three years of leaving. It is called a recidivism rate.

“The biggest problem with crime in America today is poverty and drugs. And those two are interrelated. But if you go back to the environment where you are poor and everyone around you is using drugs, it is very difficult to stay away from that,” Kerrigan said.

He is the founder of the Oak Hill Collaborative, a non-profit, faith-based organization aimed at improving the quality of life along the Oak Hill corridor on Youngstown’s south side.

In Ohio, the recidivism rate is the lowest it has ever been. Only about three of every 10 felons, or 30 percent, released from Ohio prisons come back.

That is much better than the national average, which is close to 7 out of 10, or 70 percent, that end up back in the slammer.

To help keep the recidivism rate low, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction has opened reintegration units at several of its facilities. The newest one is at the Noble Correctional Institution in Noble County, which is a rural county in southern Ohio.

It opened earlier this month. The prisoners living there train for life in the outside world.

They sleep in a dormitory, not in cells. They attend school and have jobs. They learn how to be in society.

And it is a new concept.

“This is not the prison system that existed in 2010 . We changed our mission statement to reduce recidivism among those we touch and if we can help change their lives, we can keep people safer,” said ODRC Director Gary Mohr.

Part of that includes work training and help with job searches. Employers can come into the integration center and meet with drug-free, job-ready workers.

“We will let you interview. If we can provide your orientation training while people are still here, we will do that,” Mohr said.

The prison director said the key is helping inmates feel like they are people who can give back to the world they have hurt.

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