I write this on the day that the Department of Corrections announced the closure of a third prison in a year. You might think that's good news. Think of it, we don't need three prisons! But it really means more crowding at the prisons we have, and the loss of jobs and programs, and more tension behind the walls.
But there is good news. Those of you who have been around for a while may remember my writing about the Transitioning Offenders Program that started at the prison where I worked in Shelton. It was begun by men who noticed guys coming back to prison again and again, for violations of their parole or for new charges. They asked pointed questions: why are you back? what happened when you got out? what kind of help did you need that you didn't get?
The answers were basic: I didn't have a place to live. I couldn't find a job. I couldn't get connected to mental health resources.
From that, some creative types started combing the newspapers, looking for any resource that might be able to assist people coming out of prison. They collected envelopes and wrote letters to those agencies. Hundreds of letters went out and when the answers came in, the computer-savvy built a database that eventually contained over 8000 housing, food, clothing, employment, schooling, mental health, and other resources. All 39 counties of the state were covered.
They developed a questionnaire to compile a packet specific to the community an offender was going to return to.
They became advocates for each other: found treatment beds, helped get driver's licenses re-instated, provided the addresses for vital statistics in 50 states (do you know how many people don't have a copy of their birth certificate?), and on and on.
There's much more, but the reason I'm bragging today is that now there is a working website that details the work that has been done over the last six or seven years. I'm so very proud of what they have accomplished and now you can see it here.