Program for felons in Marion County expected to outline effective programs, save money

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A more than $66,000 grant is responsible for a new program in Marion County that is expected to help reduce the number of convicted felons who return to prison.

The program would connect offenders with available services as its staff creates a database to properly identify which program are effective and which are not.¿

The program is called ‘Starting Over,’ and its employees are Americorps members.

“I got out March 18, 2009,” said DaVinci Richardson, a Starting Over re-entry coordinator.

“What better example is to say, ‘look, I’m doing it everyday. I have transitioned out. Let me help you,'” said Bonnie Zito, another re-entry coordinator.

Richardson and Zito are convinced felons who will act as the framework for the program along with 13 other people. Their jobs are that of a case worker, but their pasts are expected to help them better connect with the people they are serving.

“There are individuals in prison that truly want to change. They either don’t know how, they don’t have the resources, or they have so many doors closed in their face that they revert back to their old thinking,” said Zito.

The database will be built with the help of a local research organization, The American Institutes for Research, that applied for the grant for the city of Indianapolis.

It will highlight what re-entry programs are working and which ones need a major fix or perhaps no more public funding.

“Are these individuals getting their GED’s? Are they getting the housing they need? Are they getting jobs?” said Dr. Willie Jenkins, Office of the Mayor Re-entry Administrator.

Dr. Jenkins is optimistic and said he believes the database, once complete, will send the city in the right direction.

According to a researcher with the American Institutes for Research, if the program could just reduce the number of people going back to prison by one percent–which is 46 people in Marion County–area taxpayers would save approximately $1.5 million.

“This just shows how a small number can have such a big impact,” said Richardson.

Currently, more than half of the convicted felons in the county end up back in prison within three years of being released.

“We all came from different walks of life, different backgrounds, but we all ended up at the same place, and we’re trying to rebuild from that, and we want to help other people be successful,” said Zito.

The program is only funded for a 15-month period. Dr. Jenkins said they will be looking to additional funding sources.

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