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National Reentry Week Aims To Help Ex-Federal Convicts

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April 24-30 is the inaugural National Reentry Week in the federal prison system, which is aimed at helping released inmates transition back into society.

President Obama made the announcement during his weekly radio address on Saturday.

“Every year, more than 600,000 people are released from prison,” said the President. “We need to ensure that they’re prepared to reenter society and become productive, contributing members of their families and communities. And, maybe even role models.”

Reentry Week is one of the Obama Administration’s steps to upgrade the criminal justice system, making it fairer, more efficient, with less recidivism and to help former inmates contribute to their communities. One of the events was held Monday at Federal Prison Camp at Saufley Field near Pensacola.

“The event in Pensacola is the ‘Prison-to-Reentry Pipeline.’ We have two parts to the program, said Jason Beaton, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Florida’s Northern District.

Part one was hearing about Eric Smallridge, who was convicted of the DUI-related deaths of two girls in Gulf Breeze in 2002, and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Part two was a panel discussion with probation officers, and a former inmate who went through Pensacola’s Reentry Court on what inmates need to be doing now to ensure success after release.

“If you wait until release, to begin creating a plan to find housing, to find employment, to think about mental health issues, substance abuse issues,” said Beaton, “it’s too late and your chances of success go down quite a bit.”

Mandy Ramsey, a staff psychologist at FPC, says the challenges faced by former inmates are myriad and can be daunting for someone who’s spent a substantial time in prison. That’s where the reentry events come in.

“Job fairs, events for children, legal aid clinics, Department of Motor Vehicles events to assist with renewing drivers licenses and photo ID’s,” said Ramsey. “And other activities supporting successful reentry for inmates.”

About half of the Pensacola Federal Prison Camp’s 725 inmates attended the program. 

Additional reentry events are planned for Marianna; Tallahassee, and Gainesville this week. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Beaton says one program on Tuesday in Marianna, for female inmates, will focus on reentry as a solution to the sex trafficking of inmates.

“We know that women inmates are vulnerable to those who would try to control them, use their vulnerabilities such as drug dependency to sell them for commercial sex,” said Beaton. “One of the antidotes to that is to have them have a place to go, have a house to go to, have a job, and ties to the community.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch is asking the nation's governors to make it easier for convicted felons to obtain state-issued identification after they get out of prison.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.