“America is the land of the second chance – and when the gates of prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”
-George W. Bush
The day a prisoner is released from prison and back into society should be a day of rejoicing and new opportunity. Instead, for many exiting Louisiana’s prison system, it represents the first step in a downward cycle that ultimately ends with a return to incarceration.
On June 15, 2017, Governor John Bel Edwards signed the most comprehensive criminal justice reform in Louisiana state history. The legislation, proposed by a bi-partisan commission of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, was designed to enable Louisiana to shed its status as the state with the nation’s highest imprisonment rate.
This reform legislation has brought increased attention and awareness to the individual, family, community and societal costs of recidivism and the systemic nature of a social problem like incarceration in Louisiana.
While many are united in identifying this complex problem, it is still another step to offer tangible solutions.
Enter LA-Re, a pilot program created by Northeast Delta Human Services Authority in partnership with Goodwill Industries of North Louisiana. Through LA-Re, we are committed to promoting self-sufficiency and reduce recidivism in Northeast Louisiana.
LA-Re is the product of recognizing that innovation, integration and collaboration are some of the keys to easing the pain of the entrenched incarceration problem. We cannot do the same things we have always done and expect different results. We must chart a new course.
LA-Re operates with a model of reciprocal accountability, offering prisoners a helping hand while challenging them to make choices necessary to move forward with a better quality of life than the life they were living before entering prison.
Many ex-offenders struggle with mental health and addiction issues, and sometimes these issues are co-occurring. Some do not have the job skills necessary for gainful employment, or they face employers who express reservations upon hiring employees with a history of incarceration. Others lack consistent and dependable housing. Still others lack sufficient medical care and social and family supports. They can feel alone, or they lack encouragement, support and hope.
LA-Re addresses each of these potential risks by providing case management services to prisoners who have evidence of a mental health or substance abuse beginning 90 to 180 days before they are released. While still incarcerated, participants are educated with an evidence-based curriculum to assist them with their reentry into society. LA-Re managers connect released offenders to services within our integrated care network that will aid them in getting the treatment, care, training and support they need upon release.
Finding innovative ways to help significant social problems is at the heart of what we do at Northeast Delta. LA-Re is a flexible, adaptive and positive approach meeting the unique needs of ex-offender participants living with mental illness and addiction. We help those willing to make significant life changes with a successful reentry to Ouachita Parish communities from correctional centers across the state.
In the end, while government agencies like ours should and can do some of the work, it is not enough to rely on government exclusively. These ex-offenders are from families. They are sons, fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins. We need houses of faith, the business community, law enforcement, nonprofits, housing developers, educational institutions and participant families to work with us as we help those willing to change to mitigate these issues. Working together, we CAN make a difference.
Will you join us?