A clean slate

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For 23 years, Gerald Jones could only imagine a fulfilling day at work and returning to a home of his own.

For more than two decades, he shared a cell with other men, took up welding, and patiently waited to be released from prison after his conviction as an accomplice to a murder and attempted armed robbery at age 22.

Mr. Jones said he encountered countless men who cycled in and out of the prison system during his imprisonment. He refused to follow in their footsteps.

"So many guys would come and go and come and go, and I didn't want to be another number," he said. "They would lose their jobs. They went astray, and they had to do something to take care of home."

Mr. Jones, 48, has not returned to prison since his release more than three years ago in part because of the six months he spent at the Augusta Transitional Center.

"Being there really helped me free my mind," he said. "They taught me how to handle myself, how to be in job interviews. That's what a lot of us need."

Georgia has 56,000 state prisoners. Right now, 2,870 residents live in the 15 transitional centers across Georgia, but more centers would benefit former prisoners and the taxpayers financially supporting their stay at state prisons, said Jack Koon, a transitional center coordinator for the Georgia Department of Corrections.

Offenders released from transitional centers are less likely to return to prison, Mr. Koon said. In 2005, 19 percent of inmates who lived in transitional centers returned to prison after three years compared with almost 29 percent who returned to prison who were not in one.

Because of the centers' success, many states about 10 years ago increased the number of programs offered in transitional centers to help inmates re-enter society, said Anna Crayton, the deputy director of research for the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Since then, funding has increased for transitional programs, but more is needed, Ms. Crayton said.

Nearly 9 million inmates cycle in and out of state and federal facilities throughout the year, according to the Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington.

"In any state funding is always an obstacle, but there's a realization that these types of programs facilitate success and prepare these individuals," Ms. Crayton said. "The research connected with re-entry programming shows that it works."

More transitional centers could help create an even greater decline in the number of offenders who return to prison, Mr. Koon said. Beyond the incentive for inmates, transitional centers are also beneficial to taxpayers, Mr. Koon said.

"Since residents pay a fee for room and board and pay for their own toiletries, it's not as costly," he said. "I think in general the more we can have to reduce recidivism the better. Right now, we're just working on expanding the number of beds at our transitional centers."

Mr. Koon said he would like to see more centers, but that decision is left up to the state legislature, which controls the department's purse strings.

So far, funding over the past several years has been allocated to expand existing centers, not build new ones.

The expansion and conversion of former prison annexes into transitional centers has allowed more inmates to participate in re-entry programs.

"Whenever we build or expand, it has to go through (the Legislature)," he said.

Expansion plans

As superintendent of the Augusta Transitional Center on Taylor Street, Ronald Brawner sees the benefits of a transitional program every day. He's been there since it opened seven years ago.

"Years ago, we would just lock them up and throw away the key," Mr. Brawner said. "Now, these guys want a fresh start. They want to change pace. Without having some sort of transition, they leave the prison and move in right next door without having the tools."

Offenders spend between six months to three years in the facilities acquiring job training, assistance with job placement, cognitive programming and the support of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Eighty percent of the referrals to transitional centers come from the parole board, Mr. Koon said. The candidates are required to have a clean disciplinary record three months before their release and be physically and mentally able to work upon leaving.

"If a person has meaningful work and a place to stay, they are less likely to commit crimes," Mr. Koon said.

The Department of Corrections plans to increase the number of beds by 30 percent in the next year, he said. There are also plans to introduce the Matrix Relapse Prevention Program, which will assist offenders with drug problems.

Another plan also could help. In April 2007, Congress passed the Second Chance Act in an effort to offer grant opportunities to jurisdictions across the country. Part of the money would go toward re-entry initiatives including mental health and substance abuse treatment, housing and employment services.

The nearly $400 million slated to fund the grants between 2008 and 2012 has not been allocated, Ms. Crayton said.

"It's hard to tell how much funds will go toward the act considering the economic crises," she said. "Since the act was passed hopefully more monies will be distributed for re-entry initiatives by next year."

The opportunity

Weldon Floyd, a resident at the Augusta Transitional Center, said he is thankful for the support he found in Augusta after being convicted of driving under the influence and inflicting serious injury by a vehicle in Savannah.

He met many men who could have benefited from a transitional program but were not given the opportunity.

"A lot of them have nowhere to go. They have no family or their family has died by the time they get out," he said. "This would be a great place for them."

Mr. Floyd, 37, has developed a deeper Christian faith since he moved to the transition center two years ago.

He now works in maintenance at the center and sings in the male choir. He hopes to be released and placed on parole soon.

Mr. Jones is engaged and looking forward to a summer wedding. He has worked for University Linen for the past three years.

Trading his quiet evenings at his townhouse listening to Johnnie Taylor records for prison is unimaginable, he said.

"I don't even think about doing wrong," Mr. Jones said.

"The guys who get out and go back give us all a bad reputation. It really comes back to wanting this for yourself. This is the life I wanted."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

19%

Offenders who return to prison within three years of their release from transitional centers


28.9%


Offenders who return to prison within three years of their release who didn't go through a transitional program


2,870


Residents in 15 transitional centers across Georgia


6 to 8


Months residents live in transitional centers before returning to society, on average


$1.5 million


Average cost of operating a transitional center, including personnel and operating expenses

Convicts decrease their odds of returning to prison if they enter a transitional program after they are released. Advocates say more inmates should get that chance.

Comments (10) Add comment
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patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 11/23/08 - 07:14 am
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The transitional houses do so

The transitional houses do so much more then the old half way houses. More then just the culture shock of release from prison is dealt with. All of the simple things that these men never learned at home, goal setting, respect for right and wrong, basics of responsibilities, basics of what is needed to support yourself and the simple circle of life. Achievement is success, success leads to confidence, confidence leads to satisfaction, the desire for satisfaction leads to achievement. The men that leave the transitional houses have a chance they probably never had as children.

Riverman1
84972
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Riverman1 11/23/08 - 08:35 am
0
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Yes, the concept appears to

Yes, the concept appears to work. Too bad there isn't something like this for many before they commit serious crimes. A young person sent to something like this after being arrested might avoid more serious crime and punishment later.

getalife
4
Points
getalife 11/23/08 - 08:41 am
0
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Hopefully Mr. Jones can

Hopefully Mr. Jones can continue to work and stay out of prison. Good Luck Mr. Jones!!

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 11/23/08 - 10:06 am
0
0
You're right riverman, it's

You're right riverman, it's what's supposed to happen at home. One of the big road blocks is replacing parents with government checks and claiming it helps. Too many are tricked or seduced into following the wrong path.

SargentMidTown
8
Points
SargentMidTown 11/23/08 - 11:01 am
0
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Please keep that transitional

Please keep that transitional center on Taylor St...support hongkongaugustaga.org

Son of God
0
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Son of God 11/23/08 - 11:16 am
0
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To God Be the GLORY FOR ALL

To God Be the GLORY FOR ALL HE HAS DONE. Now Mr. Jones will be able to help others see the light before they enter prison or hang out with the wrong crowd. Imagine how many of his friends and others have died before they could learn wisdom. God has PURPOSE for Mr. Jones and I am quite sure he spent a great deal of time with God while being incarcerated. God and only God kept him for a reason. May God bless him and his family. The person who wrote about government checks needs to be aware. God could easily put you in a situation where you could need a check also and become homeless instantly. God is in charge. I am quite sure your paths haven't always been straight and still aren't. There is NONE righteous, no NOT ONE. ALL have SINNED and COME SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD. Read Deuteronomy 32:39 and meditate on it. There is NOTHING that happens that God does not execute. Satan is NOT in control. GOG IS IN CONTROL. Be Blessed and we wish you godspeed. You NEVER KNOW who will have to give you that FINAL GLASS OF WATER FOR TOTAL HEALING. It could be one of those SAME GOVERNMENT CHECK PEOPLE. that you are judging. NONE of us are BETTER than the rest of us! WE ARE ALL EQUAL. SPEAK LIFE ONLY

Rupret in the middle east
0
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Rupret in the middle east 11/23/08 - 11:25 am
0
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What is wrong with you

What is wrong with you people, a crime is a crime, people go the wrong way because they chose. I use to walk around with a gun in my pocket and if you look at me or say the wrong thing I would shoot you. I hated people who would talk down to me or would not respect me. I wanted to be someone and wanted respect. I didn't need money, I just need some one to talk to. All this about more money and program is a waste of money. I know what happen to me is I prayed and God answered me, then I started going to school, found out I am only dust, earth is a temporary lodging and do the best for yourself so you can help your fellow man. Love your neighbor as yourself, do thing the the truthfull way, get knowledge, wisdom, with age come understanding. I still have my guns, but I am on the right tract, nobody can take my knowledge, wisdom and understanding from me. I say, seek GOD first and then seek to get knowledge, wisdom and understanding. Go to school and pray, a whole new world will be open up to you.

user
0
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user 11/23/08 - 01:11 pm
0
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Transitional centers have

Transitional centers have been around in Georgia for well over twenty years. The one in Augusta is fairly new but there have been other centers in other cities for some time. Those centers have always offered similar “life skills” programs. This is nothing new. The only thing “new” about it is that it happens to be a program that the politicians want to expand (ie. They need more money).

As far as the comment about needing a program like a transitional center for those individuals who get in trouble but do not commit a serious crime. There is/was such a program. In Georgia, the facilities are called diversion centers. It is the same concept as transitional centers with the exception that the target population is those who commit crimes that are not so serious as to require a prison sentence. Sounds like a excellent concept. Those same politicians who are expanding the transitional center just closed the diversion center in Augusta and a number of other centers in Georgia.

I do not disagree with the concept; I just thought I would let everyone know that this “feel good” story is also a bit of propaganda.

As It Is
2
Points
As It Is 11/23/08 - 05:22 pm
0
0
Frankly we need more "feel

Frankly we need more "feel good" stories, especially when they are acurate and truthful as in the above story. I am glad that Mr. Jones was able to learn from him wrong decisions, and hope he does well now as a member of society again. Anything we can do to lower the recividism rate of our prisons benefits our society two fold. We are helping others to do right, reducing the risk of them hurting society in general and saving tax payer dollars since these programs are much less expensive than prison. We certainly need to devote more funds towards transistional centers and there are easy ways to acomplish these goals which just minor changes in our justice system. First, a death row inmate should not sit on death row for 20+ years as each inmate that we can issue their sentance to immediately will save us $30,000.00 per year and since they should never be part of society again, we need to greatly speed up this process. Second, we need to have major intervention programs with first time offenders that are not violent in nature. And, last, violent criminals do need to be locked up with the key thrown away at minimal expense to taxpayers with no extras such as weights, tv's, etc.

user
0
Points
user 11/23/08 - 06:37 pm
0
0
I do not disagree that we

I do not disagree that we need to recognize those people who see the error of their ways and make a positive change. I also do not disagree that the corrections system needs many alternatives to incarceration. The purpose of my post was not to criticize the offender or the transitional center program. The purpose of my post was to point out that the transitional center is not some new program. Further, the Department of Corrections has employed various alternatives to incarceration for YEARS. I recall when Zell Miller ran for governor, he campaigned on the idea of opening “Boot Camps.” It was a great idea; however, he did not come up with the idea. At the time, Georgia had already been operating boot camps for over fifteen years under the name of shock incarceration units. In addition to boot camps and transitional centers, the Department of Corrections has utilized diversion centers, probation detention centers, intensive probation supervision, specialized supervision, and day reporting centers as alternatives to incarceration.

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