Newly formed commission on reentry meets

Leaders of numerous Alabama agencies that impact the lives of those recently released from prison met on Tuesday, with the stated goal of improving services and keeping them from reentering prisons.

Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Director Cam Ward told APR on Tuesday after the meeting that approximately a dozen state agencies provide services to those released from prison, from counseling provided by the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs to Alabama Medicaid, which can help secure health care.

“But none of the agencies ever talk to each other,” Ward said.

The Commission on Reentry was formed in an amendment to Senate Bill 221, passed by the state Legislature this year.

“This is the first committee of its kind that unifies state organizations for the primary goal of supporting previously incarcerated individuals in becoming productive citizens for the good of the state of Alabama,” said Bureau Deputy Director of Parolee Rehabilitation Rebecca Bensema, a position newly created by the legislation. “This is the first time state leaders have come together and asked what can be done to better serve our justice-involved citizens.”

In addition to the wasteful problem of duplicating services, Ward described “turf wars” between agencies, and said that data isn’t being shared between those agencies.

“A key to solving a lot of problems we have in criminal justice is, let’s share more data,” Ward said.

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Ward said 90 percent of the work the bureau does is work toward reducing recidivism.

“It’s monitoring people who are on parole, and the idea is we give them every service that we can get to help them not go back into life of crime,” Ward said.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to figure out what you want to do with these people, because most of them are getting out,” Ward said of the state’s incarcerated.

Ward said it may make some in the state feel good to set up barriers for previously incarcerated people – including difficulties obtaining a driver’s license, prohibitions on getting certain professional licenses and struggles to find a job and housing – but he explained those obstacles only stand to increase the likelihood they’ll return to crime.

“We as a society have got to get past that,” Ward said.

The commission is comprised of Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, Ingram State Technical College President Annette Funderburk, Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, and Rep. Connie Rowe,R-Jasper, along with department heads from the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, the Alabama Department of Labor, Medicaid and the Gov. Kay Ivey’s office. The commission is to meet again in mid July.

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