Program aims to help parolees, probationers transition back to society

The Rev. Larry Fryer wants to write a road map to help young people on probation and parole walk a straight path.

Nearly every day, Fryer, the pastor of Hudson Memorial CME Church and a leading advocate for criminal justice reform in Augusta, meets past felons who returned to the same habits and same environment that landed them in jail.

“Some need direction in order that they won’t commit criminal activities again,” Fryer said.

In partnership with District Attorney Ashley Wright, Fryer has developed a new program called “One Church, One Goal: A Chance to Change” to provide a second chance for troubled individuals. The faith-based program aims to create a support network that creates alternatives for non-violent offenders, especially juveniles.

Reducing rates of recidivism has been a recent focus of juvenile justice reform in Georgia. In 2012, a report from the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians recommended methods for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice to save money and invest the savings into community support programs to reduce recidivism.

According to a December 2011 recidivism report, the DJJ found that 34 percent of individuals released in fiscal year 2009 had been convicted of another crime within one year. The rate increased to 41 percent after two years and 45 percent after three years.

Fryer said the statistics are alarming and unacceptable. Communities need to be more involved in fostering healthy environments for young people.

“It takes a whole village to raise a child,” he said. “We have fallen short of our duties and responsibilities.”

In a DJJ strategic plan for fiscal years 2013 to 2016, one goal was decreasing the three-year juvenile recidivism rate for individuals released in fiscal year 2013 from 45 percent to 43.

Wright said people on probation or parole often need more assistance making the transition to a productive lifestyle. A group that encourages strong relationships, conversations and non-criminal pursuits can help an individual make smarter choices than previously.

“We hear so much about the influence of peer groups on decision making,” Wright said in an e-mail. “We are creating a new peer group to care for, worry about and uplift the individual with needs.”

The program seeks interested partner faith organizations, mentors and tutors. Fryer said he will be applying for grants to fund the program, but the most important component will be people willing to work one-on-one with program participants.

Initially, Fryer said the program will meet at Hudson Memorial but he wants to expand meetings to churches throughout the city. He hopes to begin by the end of the year.

The program will also focus on helping individuals on probation and parole make productive use of their time, so as not to engage in criminal activities again, Fryer said. He wants to establish employment and housing assistance and a volunteer program.

“If they are on parole, whether working or not working, there ought to be a volunteer program to keep busy and focused on something positive,” Fryer said.

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