Mike Hampton, who has been out of prison for six years, left, speaks with volunteer Tom McCarter, right, during a monthly meeting at Government Center for the Re-Entry Coalition of Northwest Ohio, a group that lets those just released from prison know what social services are available to them to keep them from re-offending.
When Mike Hampton was released from prison nearly five years ago, he didn’t have much going for him. He had no place to live, no job, no money, and a bad attitude. Now, he’s living his life on a better track, helping others return home to stay.
“I stopped my bad habits,” he said. “I stopped drinking and drugging and everything else.”
Hampton, 59, who served time for domestic violence, is a volunteer with The Reentry Coalition of Northwest Ohio, a collaboration of public agencies, nonprofits, volunteers and faith-based partners, that helps bring services to released offenders.
Collectively, the group helps identify needs and coordinate services for individuals who may otherwise resort back to crime.
The group’s grant funding ran out in September and officials have been trying to patch together stable, permanent funds ever since. They are looking to city, county, and judicial sources, coalition chairman David Kontur said.
“It costs more not to fix it,” said former Lucas County Administrator Mike Beazley, referring to the expense of repeatedly sending an individual to prison.
The average cost of incarceration is $24,869 per year, per inmate, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
Mr. Beazley is helping the coalition seek funds.
“It’s about changing lives, keeping the community safe, and the huge opportunity costs we are paying as a society for incarceration rates,” adds Mr. Kontur.
While other urban counties in Ohio, including Montgomery, Franklin, and Cuyahoga have re-entry offices, Toledo’s re-entry group has been a pioneer and trendsetter, according to state corrections officials.
“They were the original architects of what became an Ohio-wide commitment to growing local re-entry coalitions,” said Edward Rhine, deputy director of the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections over the Office of Offender Reentry.
One of the group’s most innovative programs allows attorneys to visit prisons such as Toledo Correctional Institution, Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution, and the Corrections Center of Northwest Ohio once a month to work with those offenders due to be released within the next six months.
They try to identify legal issues that could get in the way of successful re-entry such as outstanding warrants, fines, license suspensions, and child support issues.
Many face barriers
About 22,000 ex-offenders are released from Ohio correctional institutions annually.
Those the coalition aims to help are often men like Travis Urbina.
The 31-year-old from Defiance has spent the last five years incarcerated on a drug trafficking conviction. He was most recently in a Community Treatment Center — commonly referred to as a halfway house — operated by Volunteers of America in North Toledo.
Urbina has high hopes for his return home — he’ll be staying with his parents, he’s looking forward to seeing his twin 7-year-old daughters, and hopes to find work as a cook. Though he has no restaurant experience, he was a cook in prison.
“I know what I’ve got to do to stay out,” he said, days before he was to return home. “Don’t make bad choices.”
With job skills, a high school diploma, and a supportive family waiting for him, Urbina has much more going for him than many ex-offenders.
Many returning prisoners have significant educational and employment barriers: roughly half lack a high school diploma, more than half have been fired from a job, and many depended on illegal income prior to their incarceration, according to a study by The Urban Institute.
Groups can help
Former prisoners have limited success in finding employment: about half find work the first year out. Other challenges often include health problems, debt such as back child support or court fines, a history of substance abuse or returning to a neighborhood with few resources.
Another major barrier many ex-offenders encounter after release is the difficulty of finding housing.
Research shows ex-offenders with more supportive families tend to have more success finding work.
Additionally, those who participated in an employment or substance abuse treatment program while incarcerated or participated in any programming early after release were better able to avoid re-incarceration, according to the Urban Institute study.
Emotional and spiritual support also comes from Citizen Circles, groups of ex-offenders that meet monthly, said Pastor Waverly Earley, minister at Wesley United Methodist on Stickney Avenue in North Toledo. Her church has hosted a Circle for 10 years.
“We don’t dwell on what the offenders have done,” she said.
“They’ve already paid their debt to society...We are here to help them develop their plan for life.”
The Reentry Coalition encourages those just released from prison to attend meetings the first Wednesday of every month at 11 a.m. at Government Center.
There they can hear from agencies such as the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, nonprofits that offer housing, Lucas County Child Support Enforcement Agency, Owens Community College, Lucas County Job and Family Services, and other agencies about what services are available.
One man, who was at the First Wednesdays meeting this month, said he has been incarcerated seven or eight times.
He was released from his most recent imprisonment Dec. 19, after three years at North Central Correctional Institution in Marion, Ohio, where he was serving time for robbery.
“I definitely don’t want to go back. That’s why I’m here,” said the man, who declined to give his name. “I want all the help that’s available.”
Contact Kate Giammarise at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6091, or onTwitter @KateGiammarise.