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Successful Re-Entry through Contemporary, Moral, Holistic and Life Skill Programming: An Interview with Cheryl Parks

For many people, being in jail can represent “hitting bottom.” But after a life of operating outside the law, how can someone regroup, and find a way to build a new way of life after jail?

For most people, it takes some training, a bit of rethinking one’s life, and a healthy dash of hope.

 

Check out this recorded webinar as Cheryl Parks, Ron Budzinski, and Charles Keeton share:

  • The pioneering program’s educational, social, behavioral and spiritual components
  • Its progressive family restoration strategies
  • The impacts, post-incarceration outcome measures and future considerations.

 

Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Cheryl, you and your counterparts are new presenters here at Justice Clearinghouse. Tell us a bit about this program.

Cheryl Parks: The Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program, a faith-based program focuses on the employment of the unemployed and underemployed, was brought to Peoria, Illinois in 2000 by Heaven’s View Christian Fellowship church. The program has since then been active in Illinois’ Prisons, County Jails and one Federal Correctional Center.

Four years ago the program started for men at the Peoria County Jail, and two years ago it was expanded into the Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program. The program’s expansion required additional volunteer Subject Matter Experts (SME). This enhanced the program content with cognitive, treatment, life skills and healthy living expertise. In our Webinar, we will go into the specific SME team of participants, and the important participation of each. Two of the twenty team members are my co-presenters in this Webinar – Ron Budzinski and Charles Keeton.

 

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The recidivism rate at the Peoria County Jail

was reduced by 28%

when offenders participated

in the Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program.

~~~~~

 

JCH: Tell us a bit about the situation: what were the challenges the Peoria County Jail was facing. What were those impacts, not only to the Sheriff’s department, but also to the inmates and the community?

Cheryl:  The Peoria County Jail has an offender population that is typically around 300. Thus, it is considered a mid-size jail, with the common problems of all jails: tight budgets, high recidivism rates, troubled relationships with law enforcement, custodial and offender assaults, and deteriorating conditions of confinement. In one way or another these problems plague everyone – the Sheriff’s Department, offenders and their families, the Peoria County Board, and the taxpayers of Peoria County.

To cite one of the many facts to be illustrated in the Webinar; the recidivism rate at the Peoria County Jail was reduced by 28% when offenders participated in the Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program. If there is a single word that explains this and other positive results, it is “Hope.”

 

 

 

JCH: Your program is so innovative because it’s a holistic approach. What does that mean? Why was this so unique?

Cheryl: We believe, as Fr. David Link, Head Chaplin for the Indiana Department of Corrections has said, “Without moral inspiration during incarceration, increased recidivism, continuation of the crime cycle, and an increase in criminal violence are inevitable.” In other words, moral inspiration is key to success during and after incarceration. However, it is also important that the knowledge of “how to re-enter” be provided.

Thus, the Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program has a holistic approach to re-entry that incorporates five components: Jobs Partnership faith-based classes on character development; Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) on cognitive development; Subject Matter Experts (SME) presentations on life skills, mental health, addiction recovery, fatherhood; Family Restoration on bringing families together during and after incarceration; and, Breaking Boundaries on building positive relations between offenders and law enforcement. What this then means is that those who wish to change are given a comprehensive pathway to that change.

Therefore, what has made the Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program unique is the realization that positive change comes in many ways and from many different sources, and the desire to make change permanent it must involve moral inspiration.

 

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To inspire change,

there needs to be a trust developed

between those providing the program

and the offenders taking the program.

~~~~~

 

JCH: What have you learned as you’ve developed and implemented this program?

Cheryl: First, we have found that it takes the support of the Sheriff.  In Peoria County, we have had the total support from Sheriff Brian Asbell. He provides staff support, teaching space, community outreach, offender screening/selection, and participates in the graduation program.

Secondly, because the program is holistic and thus requires a variety of expertise, many volunteers are required with knowledge in the areas of financial, addiction, mental health, employment, educational and vocational opportunities, and more. Conducting a Jobs Partnership Re-Entry program involves one part-time employee and 20 volunteers.

Third, we have learned that to inspire change, there needs to be a trust developed between those providing the program and the offenders taking the program. When offenders hear the volunteers offering instructions and support is without pay and with sincere desires to help, trust becomes felt and believed.

And fourth, supporting an offender’s desire to change cannot happen by taking a couple of classes. Support has to find a way to assist in many ways, such as in their court appearances, their family needs, their addiction recovery, and their employment and housing after incarceration.

 

 

~~~~~

 What keeps us motivated

is seeing “Hope” come alive

in those that have been hopeless.

~~~~~

 

JCH: What drew you to this line of work? And what keeps you motivated, given all that you both see in the course of creating a program like this?

Cheryl: All of the volunteers are drawn to the opportunity to provide hope to those that have been without hope for so long.  What keeps us motivated is when offenders express that hope openly and honestly. Often at their graduation ceremony, offenders express their newly found hope. As one of our 2019 graduates said, “Thank you for having me be a part of the program. I know I needed a change. To all the presenters you gave me the knowledge, and I did install it in my brain.”

 

Click Here to Watch “Successful Re-Entry through Contemporary, Moral, Holistic & Life Skills Programming.”

After the Webinar: Successful Re-Entry through Contemporary, Moral, Holistic, & Life Skills Planning. Q&A with the Presenters

Webinar presenters Cheryl Parks, Ron Budizinski, Sheriff Brian Asbell, and Charles Keeton answered a number of your questions after their presentation, Successful Re-Entry through Contemporary, Moral, Holistic & Life Skills Programming. Here are just a few of their responses.

 

Audience Question: You mentioned a study earlier in the webinar. Do you happen to remember the title of that study? Or could just send us maybe a link to that study? The citation information? 

Ron Budizinski: I’ll let the sheriff respond to that. That’s a study that the sheriff actually got. So it’s not just a study – it’s an independent look really.

Sheriff Brian Asbell: I’m more than willing to share this with anyone. So if they want to access, we can get that out to them. It’s entitled “An Offender’s Perspective” or “Re-entry, Assess Jury County Jails Offender Re-entry Program.”

 

 

Audience Question: If you could restate, what was the definition of recidivism that you used for the study? 

Ron Budizinski: Recidivism is measured by criminal acts that result in a rearrest. Three convictions or returned to prison with or without a new sentence during a three year period, following the prisoner’s release. That definition was a definition written by the National Institute of Justice.

Sheriff Brian Asbell: When I did this study, this is sometimes arguable – there are different definitions of recidivism out there. That is sometimes a limitation when you do studies like this.

 

 

Audience Question: Who are the authors again of the MRT? 

Charles Keeton: It’s Dr. Gregory Little and Dr. Kenneth Robinson.

 

 

Audience Question: You also talked about the Jobs Partnership study? Is this one and the same Sheriff with what you just talked about? Is the Jobs Partnership study and what you were just referencing the same thing? 

Ron Budizinski: Correct.  Yes.

 

 

Audience Question: How many people go through your Jobs Partnership Program annually? 

Cheryl Parks: For the men, it’s anywhere between 100 and 150. And for the women, around 40. The women’s population is much lower in Peoria County Jail. So we averaged about 10 to 14 per class for the women and anywhere from 30 to 35 for the men and we do 4 sessions a year. And statewide it could be anywhere between 800 and 1000.

 

 

Audience Question: Do you find comparable results for both men and women?

Sheriff Brian Asbell: Our female population is lower than even the state average or national average. But at the end of the day, the averages were basically the same.

Christina McCale (host): So they had equal success?

Sheriff Brian Asbell: That’s correct.

 

 

Audience Question: If the program is roughly 60 days long, how long is the typical jail stay? 

Ron Budizinski: Anyone who’s on this webinar who manages jail populations knows, this is a huge challenge and it’s something that we had to discuss when we’re building this program because a lot of our detainees, they can go to court on any given day for even a scheduled conference, not even their trial and they can plea out. They might go be going to IDOC they could be going home on a probationary status or acquittals. The length of stay analysis for jail detainees is a significant difference and those who have been convicted and sentenced to a state or federal facility. We do have some community partners and we have the ability, even with Jobs Partnership, because we don’t want gaps. We want linkage meaning so when people are released before the program has concluded that they can continue this outside the jail. That’s critical: it’s really the outreach side of this is significant in so many different ways.

Sheriff Brian Asbell: When we do the program in the jail, it’s really a seven-week program, and we’ve really condensed it down. That’s why I say we do a couple of classes each time we’re there. When we do it in the prisons, it’s almost twice as long. We’ll do only one class per week, because, again, obviously, we’ve got people that are there for a longer period of time. So it is a challenge to at least identify a group that can be available for those 6 weeks.

Ron Budizinski: And this all comes into play when they get the list of names where the sheriff or the employees from the office has the responsibility to classify and who should we put in the program. If you have 100 volunteers, we have to thin the herd down to a working number of 30 and these things we do at length of stay analysis on each of these individuals. We try to make our best determination of who will be here for the length of the program.

 

 

Audience Question: Are participants’ applicants limited to folks who are 60 days out from being released? Or can anyone apply at any time during their stay? 

Cheryl Parks: They have to begin and stay the entire time. So we can’t have drop-ins along the way, because they’ll miss too much of the other classes. So, we go 60 days, then we continue with MRT. In between, we take about a month off, but we have MRT going continually every week and breaking boundaries. And then after a month, we start up the next cohort.

Sheriff Brian Asbell: I think the other part of that question is if we’re looking that people who are at the end of their potential term inside the facility, whether it be released in that 60-day window. No, going back to what was always stated. There are benefits to someone that might be there for another year because it does modify behavior within the walls.

 

 

Audience Question: What are the other programs? You had mentioned that there were a variety of programs that could potentially contribute to the successful results that you found. What were the other programs that may have contributed to the success? 

Sheriff Brian Asbell: We have several secular programs that deal with substance abuse. We have a smart recovery program that deals with different types of addictions. It’s more of a holistic approach. We have cognitive behavior therapy classes. In addition, we also have regular education-GED programs. We have a couple throughout the year, different certifications like food certifications to work in different environments. But the big thing is probably the cognitive behavior therapy, in addition to the moral recognition therapy there. There are a lot of similarities, but there are some differences. But this keeps these different classes ongoing throughout the year and occupy in time.

 

 

Audience Question: Do you provide any additional support for participants who may be going through your 60-day program and become overwhelmed or triggered by things that are discussed during the program? Is there support for them or do SMEs have that additional training to be able to support them? Are there other programs that are available to them? 

Sheriff Brian Asbell: In addition to this, we do have full-time mental health staff at the facility who are available at least 12 hours per day.  We obviously have other religious services, we have our chaplain services who available for counseling.

Ron Budizinski: Mentoring is a big deal. We’ve graduated now I think about 275 guys from the program. And out of that now we’ve gotten a number guys who are really good teachers and mentors to others. And that support is really, really helpful because they can really relate to the issues and can reach these guys at times that we certainly can.

Cheryl Parks: And we’re writing a program for mentoring for those that graduate from our program, we usually choose between 7 and 8 men to stay on with the next cohort. So we are putting together a curriculum for that, where our ideal is to have at least one graduate in each pod at the county jail, and so that when the men come back, they have someone there that they can talk to as well.

Sheriff Brian Asbell: Another piece of this and it hasn’t started yet, but I just received funding through the 2020 budget is a case management piece. Having dedicated employees who conduct risk assessments of the individuals coming into our jail and working with Jobs Partnership and our other programs to see where the true needs are and make sure they get there as well as the linkage post-release. The ultimate goal is have that followed up with outreach workers working in and with jobs partnership, once discharged and back in the community.

 

 

Audience Question: Is that mentorship just strictly on the inside when that when the guys are still in jail or is there a mentorship program outside once they’ve left? 

Charles Keeton: Yes, actually there is a mentorship that starts once the guys get out. We tell the guys once they are released, whether it be from IDOC, or whether it be released from Peoria County Jail, back into society, to contact us right away, don’t wait and wait and allow that time to get behind them and then contact us. Once they do, we most certainly do touch bases with them, find out where they are and we get them into the process right away. And then contact can be more personal where they can contact us at any time: Go to dinner, go to lunch and just spend time with the guys and find out where they are. So to answer your question, yes.

Cheryl Parks: Part of that partnership is that we come to their jobs because we usually helped them get the job. And so we’re there to just help them along the way. Because life hits them when they get out and so they see volunteers or Charles, showing up at their work.

Sheriff Brian Asbell: Can I add one thing? Chris, I think this is very significant, we’re no different than any other community where police legitimacy is an issue. There’s distrust between community members and police. Through programs just like Jobs Partnership, we’re building these senses of trust, where ex-offenders are going back into the community and advocating for positive police relationships. That’s beneficial in so many different ways. That’s one of the biggest takeaways that I’ve seen from this is this trust that we’re starting to see building between ex-offenders and those that are actually the law enforcement officers on the street.

Charles Keeton: In adding to that without breaking boundaries. In many of our classes, we’ve had guys come forward and say to police officers: when I was out, every time I saw you, I avoided you like you were the plague. But now they’re saying, next time I’m out and I see you, now I can come up to you and I can talk to you. We find that that piece is definitely binding them together, and they’re becoming more of a sense of community.

Cheryl Parks: And I’ve also witnessed the inmates asking the police, will you check on my family? Will you go see them for me? You know, so the relationships are being built.

 

Click Here to Watch a Recording of Successful Re-Entry through Contemporary, Moral, Holistic & Life Skills Programming.