Inmate re-entry prep starts behind bars

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Inmates approaching the end of a lengthy jail stay can take advantage of a wealth of re-entry programs.

"You hope that while they're here, they pick up some lessons that are valuable to them when they leave," Bay County Jail Warden Rick Anglin said.

Of all the inmates released from the jail, 95 percent return to life in and around Panama City, so Anglin feels re-entry programs offered at county jails and the state prison system by the Department of Corrections (DOC) serve a vital role in returning inmates to society who are prepared to manage life's complexities.

Inmates leaving a DOC facility are required to complete a 100-hour comprehensive transition course that teaches job readiness and life management skills such as problem solving, goal setting, wellness, financial literacy, managing chemical dependency and relationships.

Programs focus on teaching inmates to be self-sufficient, especially through employment. DOC said it has issued almost 1,800 vocational certificates from grant- funded programs to inmates in 33 trades in the past three years.

Bay County inmates can learn skills in building trades, gardening, mechanics and welding, to name a few.

Inmates nearing the end of their sentence also may enter a community release center, also known as work release. Those inmates may hold employment while still incarcerated. Money earned is held by the DOC for the payment of restitution and saved so the inmate has money when released.

Anglin said jail can be beneficial to inmates returning to rough circumstances when they are released.

"This may be the most positive influence they've had in a long time," he said.

Adult Basic Education and GED programs are available in 19 state prisons, which might be in-person or correspondence study programs. A mandatory literacy program is in place for prison inmates with less than a sixth-grade education and more than two years remaining on their sentence.

Those inmates are required to pass Tests of Adult Basic Education or complete at least 150 hours of instruction.

Ernie Bridwell entered the Bay County Jail in September after violating his probation by getting a speeding ticket while driving a personal watercraft.

Bridwell, who celebrated two years of sobriety Dec. 12, was ordered to enter the jail's comprehensive substance abuse Lifeline Program to receive continued support for alcohol addiction.

But Lifeline also gave the 49-year-old Bridwell, who dropped out of high school in 1982, a chance earn his GED.

"I picked it right up after all these years, and it made me excited to get it done," Bridwell said of the GED instruction.

Bridwell knows how to do the math it takes to run the business at his custom hot rod shop in Daytona, but he said he's walking out of jail this time with knowledge that will help him at home.

"I have two young grandchildren and the math they were doing, I had no idea how to do," he said. "Now I do."

Lifeline Program manager Bruce Griffin said inmates over 18 who don't have a high school diploma are required to enter the GED program as a part of their treatment.

He also said 75 percent of the people who earn their education while incarcerated do not return to jail.

"It puts them in a place where they get a completion of something," Griffin said.

In addition to vocation and education, inmates need guidance in other areas of life.

The DOC offers intervention to help beat criminal thinking that leads to a life of trouble. The idea is to help reduce recidivism by teaching cognitive self-change skills, social skills and problem-solving.

Inmates also have access to faith-based services and mentorship, as well as short- and long-term substance abuse treatment programs.

The DOC said the number of children with imprisoned parents has increased by 80 percent during the past 20 years, so it now offers workshops on family reunification and parenting skills.

Anglin said he can't possibly remember the face of every inmate, but said it's common for former inmates to come shake his hand when they run into him in public some time after their release.

"That's what you're looking for," he said. "You want to see those people that can come up to you on the street and tell you they're doing good. They have no intention of coming back. They've got a job and a family."

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