New program aimed at preventing ex-convicts from returning to prison having positive impact
POCATELLO — Life inside prison is lived on a very strict schedule. Inmates eat, sleep, exercise and even carry out daily tasks according to directives provided by prison staff.
Upon release, former inmates often struggle with unregimented life.
That is one of the main causes of recidivism — when a released inmate commits another crime and returns to prison.
“There’s no easing back into being out in the community and having all the freedoms,” said Idaho Department of Corrections District 6 Manager Jimmie Gentry. “You’re just thrust out on the day of your parole.”
“In a lot of ways, it’s harder out here than it is in there,” added GEO Reentry Services Program Manager Amy Austin.
Geo Reentry Services, an organization that assists parole and probation officers with efforts to keep its clients from returning to prison, was contracted by the state of Idaho last year. And its newest Connection and Intervention Station, serving the southeastern region, has been open in Pocatello for just over two months.
The purpose of the program is to provide parole and probation officers an additional tool. Through the CIS program, POs have access to what GEO Statewide Manager Evette Navedo called evidence-based best practices.
“It’s a program that we’re really excited about, that will potentially — and we’re already seeing results — save us from incarcerating individuals,” Gentry said.
Additionally, each program is tailor-made for that particular client.
As Navedo explained, a client with zero history of anger management should not be subject to routine anger management classes. Not only would that be a waste of resources, but it could also be detrimental.
Instead, GEO uses their system to assess a particular client’s needs.
“We’re really assessing the drivers behind criminal thinking and criminal behavior,” Navedo said.
In two short months, GEO has made connections with local employers and assistance programs.
But helping someone formerly convicted of a crime goes beyond gainful employment and sustained living conditions, as Gentry explained. How parole and probation programs work involves transitioning a former prison inmate’s line of thought from compliance to wanting to change.
That, according to District 6 lead probation parole officer Paul Sorensen said, requires acceptance from the community.
As Sorensen explained, many criminals grew up around a belief system that what they were doing was OK, and surrounded themselves with others who told them those same things were OK. Now, after serving the time for their crime, many have realized the error of their ways, and need to feel accepted outside of their past circles in order to continue avoiding them.
“There’s a stigma,” he said. “And I think it just comes down to how open-minded someone else is. If we can break that barrier, and change some of that thinking, that’s when we can get that long-term change instead of compliance.”
GEO creates a community of acceptance inside its station with things like their “GOAT Board,” where clients are celebrated for their successes. After all, positive reinforcement is the key to any goal — whether that goal be a diet, learning a new skill or overcoming a thought process that landed a person in prison.
“I think it is our obligation, as neighbors, as humans, to uplift each other and support change,” Navedo said. “It’s not easy — change is not the easiest thing.”