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Everyone deserves a second chance, according to Montgomery County Commissioner Leslie Richards.
The county intends to offer that second chance this year to inmates serving time at the county prison.
The county commissioners Thursday gave county prison officials and workforce development staff the OK to apply for a $185,000 federal grant to augment $270,000 in state workforce development funds for a one-year pilot program designed to enable ex-cons leaving the county prison to secure long-term employment.
“We want to equip those re-entering society with the skills and tools to become financially independent, contributing members of society,” said county Warden Julio M. Algarin.
“And don’t kid yourselves,” said Algarin. “The majority of our inmates still are from Montgomery County, not Philadelphia, as many would like to believe. So, the communities that they will be returning to after they serve their sentences are our communities.”
Commissioner Chairman Josh Shapiro pointed out that the recidivism rate at the county prison is about 62 percent.
While that is lower than the national average of 67.5 percent, the county’s rate is “still way too high,” according to both Shapiro and the warden.
“The more we can do to help people be successful when they leave prison, to be able to reacclimatize to life, to get a job, to be able to care for their families and to avoid having to go back to prison, that’s the goal of this initiative,” said Shapiro.
Without trying to give inmates skills and rehabilitation, “to me, you are just setting them up to fail,” said Richards.
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Algarin said the prison did have a limited pilot re-entry program several years ago. That program, which was funded by a grant from the Pew Foundation, was narrowly focused on inmates from Norristown and primarily involved linking them with church groups in Norristown to help them, according to Algarin.
This pilot program will be far more extensive, according to the warden.
It will include job readiness, classroom instruction, individual career counseling, assessment and training, job placement and employment-retention support.
The program will start with 15 prescreened participants, with additional participants added every quarter.
It is this type of program he envisioned when classroom and office space was included in the new addition that was opened in 2011, said Algarin.
The previously overcrowded prison had no space for these types of programs, he added.
Read the full article by Margaret Gibbons.