By: Katie Sobiech
Did you know that 1 in 6 people in Ohio have a criminal conviction?
How about the fact that nearly 20,000 people get released from prison in Ohio every year? Add to that another 20,000 that go to prison every year.
It is estimated that 1 in 35 Ohioans is on some kind of supervision, probation or parole; and it’s 1 in 25 in Summit County.
“That’s really high. And these people are coming home whether we help them or not,” Terry Tribe Johnson, Summit County Reentry Coordinator, said.
Reentry in Summit County
Each year, about 2,000 or more people come back to Summit County from prison.
“Some of them come back with no supervision or support. They get a bus ticket and good luck,” Bernie Rochford, Executive Vice President at the Oriana House, explained.
“If you have family that’s willing to take you back that’s great, but if you don’t, it’s tough. And then you add the conviction and trying to find a job and all of that,” Rochford shared.
All of the factors involved make it very difficult – and for some, almost impossible, – to transition back into society successfully.
Rochford, who has spent 30 years dedicated to this cause, shared that about 5-6 years ago the United Way of Summit County became aware of these issues and started to get involved. A group formed and met quarterly, but there was no one person really driving it.
“And it really wasn’t the United Way’s job to do. It needed to be a person or entity – a group of people – whose main focus is reentry,” Rochfield explained.
And this is where Tribe-Johnson came in.
Opening New Position
The search for a re-entry specialist was on. They were able to get funding for the position and formed the Summit County Reentry Network in 2010, which operates from County Executive Russel Pry’s office.
“It’s really where this position needs to reside because when the county exec calls a meeting, people show up. They’re able to marshal a lot of different services from the county health department, to the criminal justice agencies – it’s been a good fit,” Rochford said.
“It’s a good hub for communication. It’s not uncommon for Executive Pry to call me and say ‘Can you meet on Thursday? I have a group of concerned clergy from the African American church coming in’. Or ‘Can you meet this week, we’re going to talk about the workforce development board, we have someone coming in who wants to start a new reentry nonprofit’. He’ll call and ask and it’s really developed,” Tribe Johnson said.
The need has continued to grow.
“There’s been such a greater wave of interest in people coming home after the house bill of 86’ and senate bill 337,” Tribe Johnson said.
“We’re really honored. I see this office as the point of an umbrella and then there’s all of these spokes that go out to the different providers. We’re really thrilled that the Summit County Office of Reentry can facilitate trainings for reentry providers. faith-based, non-profit, government, whoever,” Tribe Johnson said.
Community Response is Key
The truth is, ex-offenders are coming home whether we help them or not, and research has proven that community response is really key.
At the same time, it’s crucial that strategic methods are put in place that will truly help these people.
“That’s why the Summit County Office of Reentry is thrilled to have this kind of network available,” Tribe Johnson said.
“And we’re still working on it and working at getting people integrated. There are a lot of people with really good hearts who want to start reentry programs and they’re interested in networking and doing it the right way,” Tribe-Johnson said.
The problem they’ve found though is that there are also those who want to get involved because they think there is money in reentry. They see it as a business opportunity. They think there is grant money available through the old Access to Recovery grant program, which ends this summer.
“Both returning citizens and providers have called them reentry pimps. There are people out there trying to make a buck,” Tribe Johnson said.
They are known to open up transitional housing units, for example.
“The problem is that many of those houses are in very subpar areas, which means they’re in the neighborhoods that are conducive to people relapsing,” Tribe Johnson explained.
This is a set-up for failure, due to the fact that the biggest factors in people reoffending are people, places, things and attitude. They cannot go back to the place and the situation where they got in trouble in the first place. They need a fresh start somewhere else.
“I just got a call from a returning citizen. She wants to be in North Hill or the Valley – somewhere in that direction. She said ‘I don’t want to go to the west side or south side of Akron. That’s where I got in trouble all of the time. I don’t want to return to my neighborhood’,” Tribe Johnson explained.
For those looking to get involved in reentry, it’s crucial to have an awareness of what’s really going on and what the true needs are.
“We’ve been in the business for a long time and some are just coming to the table,” Rochfield said.
“What it really is, is a different way of looking at the problem. Before it was probation, parole, Oriana House, you guys deal with those folks who are coming back. Now the realization has become that it’s the community’s issue,” he continued.
Addressing All Needs
Whether it’s the faith-based community, employment community, social services or education, they all need to work together, providing a full-spectrum of services.
Research shows that if you address all of these needs, you can greatly impact recidivism.
Together the Reentry Network, Oriana House and plenty of others have been forming a strong collaboration of folks to cover all different areas of need to help ex-felons transition back into society. This is all being done with the goal in mind that they will become contributing members of society, staying out of jail and prison.
Find out more next week about this new way of looking at reentry, their trial and error process and overview areas that they believe will greatly impact getting ex-convicts back on their feet and contributing in society!