VIRGINIA BEACH — The city jail sponsors many programs for inmates but its main focus has been preparing inmates for reentry into society and more importantly, back into the city itself.
The jail’s Inmate Reentry Program just marked its three-year anniversary, touting an 85 percent success rate, said Kathy Hieatt, Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
Inmates, who’ve successfully completed the course and have finished their sentence, are considered part of that 85 percent success rate if they haven’t re-offended within three years of release, Hieatt said.
That rate of return is a reduction from the jail’s overall re-offending rate, which is estimated at 40 percent for all offenders serving six months or more, she said.
Over the past five years of the program, 250 inmates have graduated.
There are currently 30 male inmates and 14 female inmates in the program, Hieatt said.
Sheriff Ken Stolle wanted to create the program because, he said, he felt as though they weren’t tackling the issue at hand, rather focusing on punishment instead of rehabilitation.
“We can’t keep building jails, people need to reenter the community,” he said.
The program is fully funded by a $1 fee from Caremart purchases, Hieatt said.
Caremart purchases are those made by inmates’ families for the inmate such as food and the extra $1 fee goes toward funding the reentry program, she noted.
The program costs about $44,000 a year to run, Stolle said.
To get into the program, an inmate needs to submit an application and depending on their history in the jail, their charges, interviews and total time of incarceration, they then can be accepted into the program, said Correctional Support Lt. Lois Thompson, facilitator of the reentry program.
“These are cognitive communities, you need your community to succeed,” she said, adding by placing inmates together in the programs they learn how to rely on their community to be successful.
The program is 12 weeks and inmates get a chance to learn a host of different skills such as personal finance, how to deescalate a situation, job interviewing skills and other life skills they’ll need to succeed in the community, Thompson said.
In addition to the program coursework, inmates get to learn about different jobs they can get upon release from presentations given by employers willing to hire them.
“We are constantly talking to them, reevaluating what they need,” Thompson said.
A good portion of the reentry program inmates come through their Recovery Program (Substance Abuse Program) first, so they focus on what individuals who might have mental health issues need once they reenter a community.
Offenders with mental health issues have a 95 percent recidivism rate, so the jail is hoping to reduce the rate of return with programs like this, Stolle said.
In the long term, Stolle hopes to set up a place for the inmates to live upon release and build a reentry network.
“We want to get people to hire them, to house them,” he said. “We want to up the ability for success.”