Missouri Western Probation and Pretrial Services Office Hosts Re-entry Symposium

On Tuesday afternoon, September 22, 2009, the Probation and Pretrial Office hosted a Re-entry Symposium at the Whittaker U.S. Courthouse for judges, U.S. Probation Officers from both sides of the state line, members of the court family, Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Assistant Federal Defenders, and representatives from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The symposium was the first of its kind with the goal of educating the court family about the ongoing efforts of the local Probation and Pretrial Office in the area of re-entry. The Re-entry and Workforce Team in the Probation and Pretrial Office has learned that despite overwhelming statistics indicating the need for re-entry programming, many working within the court system are still confused as to what constitutes re-entry and more importantly, their roles within this process.

Re-entry is defined as the use of programs targeted at promoting the effective reintegration of offenders back to communities upon release from confinement. A variety of programs are used to assist offenders in the re-entry process including: prerelease programs; drug and alcohol rehabilitation; vocational training; and employment programs. It is a process that involves multi-levels of partnerships and collaboration both in prisons and in the community to provide seamless transitional services for the offender.

In order to accomplish its goal at the symposium, the Re-entry and Workforce Team assembled a panel of judges and subject matter experts. The panels were moderated by Felix Mata, the National Coordinator of the Defendant/Offender Workforce Development Initiative from the Administrative Office in Washington D.C. The judge’s panel included Chief Judge Fernando J. Gaitan, Jr. from the Western District, Chief Judge Catherine Perry from the Eastern District, and Chief Magistrate Judge Karen Humphreys from the District of Kansas. The judges offered their views and perspectives through responses to several questions including:

  • “Why do we need re-entry programming?"
  • "What do you define as a successful re-entry program?"
  • "What consequences are there if we just continue with the status quo?"
  • "What are judges prepared to do to promote the re-entry initiative?”

The second group of panelists addressed the concept of re-entry from a probation and pretrial officer’s viewpoint. The participants on this panel were Senior Probation Officer Specialists, Chi King and Kimberly Grace from the Western District; Pretrial Services Officer, Susan Hendrickson from the Eastern District; and Senior Pretrial Services Specialist, Melissa Goldsmith from the District of Kansas. Each officer opened the discussion by summarizing their experience with re-entry programming and highlighted some successful re-entry efforts underway in their respective districts. This part of the program concluded with questions from Mr. Mata and the audience.

The final group of panelists were from agencies outside the court family and offered a community partners’ perspective on re-entry. Participating in this portion of the program were Elizabeth Pottios, Regional Education Administrator from the Federal Bureau of Prisons; Lora McDonald, staff member from the Kansas City Metropolitan Crime Commission, and Chair of the Second Chance Foundation; and Shirley Cliff, Regional Manager with the Missouri Division of Workforce Development. The symposium concluded with moving remarks from offender Damion Alexander. Mr. Alexander described his life story, making a point that he was from a stable home with parents who provided for him and tried to be good role models. He noted that during his late teens and early twenties, he made some poor choices which caused him to become involved in crime and undergo an arrest. His case was referred to federal court where he later accepted full responsibility for his actions, served his custody sentence, and was released to supervision. At that juncture, he became determined to chart a different course. He took advantage of the resources offered to him by the Probation and Pretrial Office and specifically credited his success so far to the influence and efforts of his Probation Officer, Chi King, whom he described as “awesome.”

The Re-entry Symposium was a huge success and drew many positive remarks from the attendees. The tremendous outcome exceeded expectations and was due to the tireless dedication of the staff on the Probation and Pretrial Office’s Workforce and Re-entry Team. It is important to keep in mind with nearly 650,000 offenders releasing from state and federal prisons every year, the likelihood half of those released will again be in some type of legal trouble within three years. Evidence shows effective re-entry programming can greatly reduce recidivism. The use of sound and proven practices can help rebuild broken lives and reduce jail and prison populations while improving public safety and reducing overall costs.

 

 

 

 

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