Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning. Sign Up

Alabama kicks off new initiative to train inmates, cut recidivism in half

On his last day of being incarcerated, Carlton Jones, 58, was not wearing the familiar prison attire, but rather, a blue cap and gown. Jones was one of about a dozen graduates Friday of the Utility Tree Trimming program, which is among the many programs offered at the PREP Rehabilitation Center in Perry County.

“I am leaving here today with a different mindset,” Jones said, shortly before receiving his certificate. “There’s a poster right when you enter medical, and it states: ‘I choose to live by choice, not by chance.’ Never again will I take a chance with my freedom. Never. I have been given skills.”

While Jones is not in the first class to graduate from Alabama’s new PREP Rehabilitation Center, which opened in 2022, his class was the first to have graduated under the state’s official partnership with Reentry 2030, a national initiative aimed at reducing recidivism. 

Carlton Jones speaks after graduating from the PREP Rehabilitation Center Utility Tree Trimming program.

Through that new partnership, which was officially announced on Friday ahead of the graduation ceremony, Alabama leadership has set a goal to cut its own recidivism rate in half by 2030.

“Of everyone in the United States today who’s incarcerated, 95% will get out, and I think the question we have to ask ourselves is what do I want this person to be like,” said Cam Ward, director of Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles, who’s been charged by Gov. Kay Ivey with leading the new initiative.

“If they’re going to be my neighbor, what do I want my neighbor to be like? I don’t know about you, but I want them to be successful. I want them to get a job, I want them to be a productive, tax-paying citizen, and not someone who’s going to be a public safety risk.”

Today, roughly 29% of Alabamians convicted of a crime reoffend within three years of release. Under the new initiative – which also aims to increase labor participation of formerly incarcerated Alabamians by 50% by 2030 – Ward hopes to see the recidivism rate drop to at least 15% in the next seven years.

Cam Ward, director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.

The Reentry 2030 initiative is spearheaded by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization that aims to “break the cycle of incarceration.” While led by the state Bureau of Pardons and Parole, the Alabama Reentry 2030 initiative will be carried out by a massive public-private partnership consisting of eight state agencies, three private companies, the aforementioned CSG Justice Center, and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Through the new initiative, more incarcerated Alabamians will have the opportunity to complete courses teaching a variety of high-demand skill sets, including in wielding, forklift operations, electrical, and the aforementioned tree trimming.

Kent Davis, the commissioner for the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, is among those helping lead the initiative, and pointed to the importance of considering veterans in designing and carrying out rehabilitation programs.

“Veterans are twice as likely as a member of the general population to become addicted to opioids; that is a real crisis in the veteran community, and it often leads to incarceration,” Davis said. 

“Alabama, unfortunately, has one of the highest rates of veteran suicide in the country. Since 9/11, in 22 years, we have lost about 7,000 service members in combat that were killed in action. It may shock you to know that we have lost 120,000 veterans to suicide since 9/11. It just indicates the mental health issues that we deal with in the veteran community that can often lead to problems in the judicial system.”

Another partner in the initiative is the GEO Group, a private corporation that operates private prisons and mental health facilities, as well as incarcerated rehabilitation programs.

Derrick Schofield, vice president of GEO Reentry Services at the GEO Group.

“Our GEO Reentry is probably one of the leading reentry programs across the country,” said Derrick Schofield, vice president of GEO Reentry Services and former corrections commissioner in Tennessee.

“When I had the opportunity to go to GEO Group, it really was about developing that partnership, and developing the program that really impacts folks coming out of prison,” he said. “It’s hard to do it as a state agency alone; it takes private partners to work with you.”

Jones, among the latest graduates of the program, told Alabama Daily News that the first thing he intended on doing after leaving Friday a free man was to secure “the best job I can find.” Ward, along with every partner in the new initiative, are hoping Jones’ story will be one of many over the next decade.

Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Web Development By Infomedia