The Gwinnett Department of Community Supervision's Chief Tripp Powers.
Governor Deal’s GA-PRI or GA’s Prisoner Reentry Initiative
By Lee Robbins, Jr.
Tabernacle International Church, a large and inviting place of worship near the corner of Simonton Road and Grayson Highway, was host to The Department of Community Supervision’s (DCS) first GA-PRI Stakeholders Meeting on February 28th. The meeting convened state leaders, resource providers, volunteers, and service professionals to introduce Governor Deal’s new initiative, GA-PRI or GA’s Prisoner Reentry Initiative.
The meeting was to include several specific plans and outlooks for Gwinnett county, led by Community Coordinator Lee Robbins. The GA-PRI, signed into law in July 2015, provides additional funding to Georgia’s judicial departments, crucially including additional resources towards reducing prison recidivism in the state. Recidivism is the tendency for a former inmate to re-offend upon returning to free society.
Reentry "Path 2 Success" Resource Fair presented by Gwinnett DCS's Community Coordinator, Lee Robins.
The meeting began with an Invocation by Apostle Fritz Musser who pastors Tabernacle International with his wife Pastor Lisa Musser. Their church includes a reentry ministry in which the returned citizens are offered support, hope, and brotherhood while they begin to rebuild their lives on the outside, a task that can be daunting for formerly incarcerated individuals. The church leaders also run a reentry home, welcoming those in need of a second chance and a warm place to sleep.
Part of the GA-PRI is to increase awareness and community involvement in an effort to ease the transition from incarceration to freedom. Some of the obstacles people face include few employers willing to hire someone with “a record,” the inability to be eligible for safe, affordable housing, and issues of transportation (especially relevant in Gwinnett). While the obstacles returning citizens come across may seem insurmountable, the GA-PRI aims to increase success after incarceration and therefore increase the safety of our neighborhoods.
Kathleen Smith, statewide Community Coordinator for DCS welcomed the attendants. Smith spoke about the new Reentry Division of DCS, including the position of Community Coordinator in most of Georgia’s counties. Lee Robbins fills this role for the county of Gwinnett. According to Lee, the Stakeholders meeting is a way to bring awareness and community involvement to an area that affects us all, noting that this issue does not discriminate on the basis of status or income. He highlighted the organizations already doing great work in our area, including GA-Calls, an organization that employs and supports returning citizens, and the Greater Gwinnett Reentry Alliance, a network of resource providers and volunteers focusing on helping returning citizens succeed in our community. Robbins reiterated the idea of community and partnership, noting, “many hands make lighter work.” He reminded the attendants that they can witness community partnership at the Reentry “Path 2 Success” Resource Fair taking place after the Stakeholders Meeting.
Through the effort of the community, Robbins declared, we can decrease recidivism and create safer neighborhoods. In his presentation, Robbins spoke about the several barriers and gaps returning citizens face when attempting a successful return to Gwinnett. The aim of the GA-PRI is to bridge those gaps and reduce those barriers.
DCS Coordinating Chief Tripp Powers introduced the meeting’s Keynote Speaker, Gwinnett County Chief Judge Melodie Snell Conner. Judge Conner discussed the importance of community efforts in this area, noting that the criminal justice system cannot do this on its own. Providers and resources within the prisons and community are the key to success, highlighting this idea by stating, “it takes a village…”
Gwinnett Superior Court Chief Judge Melodie Snell Conner speaking about the importance of community-wide efforts to reduce recidivism.
Judge Conner challenges DCS to encourage more community awareness to the illness of addiction in our community, especially among our youth. Perhaps an open discussion about addiction as a treatable illness can aid in the reduction of incarceration rates in the state.
Next to speak was Director of Operations of DCS’s Reentry Services Unit, Renee Snead. Snead discussed the vision of the new unit; providing every returning citizen with the tools and guidance they need to succeed. Snead held that the mission of the Reentry Services Unit is to improve public safety by reducing crime. To do this, the program aims to implement a plan of services and supervision for each returning citizen. This process will begin at the time of entry and follow the individual for the duration of their imprisonment on through their release and ideally, successful return.
Sharon Johnson with ARS (Applied Research Services) discussed the development of the NGA (Next Generation Assessment). The NGA predicts the risk of reoffending based on a person’s past recorded behavior. The scales the NGA utilizes include the Risk Scale, the Need Scale, and “motivation to change” Scale, formally called the Responsivity Scale. From this information, the NGA advises possible treatment options for the person while incarcerated. The NGA follows the person throughout their time within the criminal justice system and updates daily. By targeting those with the highest risk to reoffend, the highest need, and the highest responsivity, research shows recidivism can be decreased dramatically.
To adjourn, Community Coordinator Lee Robbins invited the attendants to see community at work at the Reentry “Path 2 Success” Resource Fair following the meeting.
The meeting ended with an inspiring Benediction by Pastor Kim Robbins.
The Resource Fair consisted of 15+ local providers and resources that work with returning citizens. The attendants were treated with lunch catered by Hearts to Nourish Hope, an organization based out of Clayton and now developing in Gwinnett, helping at-risk youth lead crime-free lives by providing job training, GED classes, and motivational support.
About 100 returning citizens attended the fair and met with local providers to receive information about important resources that can lead them to success in Gwinnett. Providers included possible employment sources, healthcare information, and a list of open-armed ministries willing to welcome them into their home, such as the Tabernacle’s own Breaking Chains ministry.
Both the Stakeholders Meeting and the Resource Fair provided a shining example of what a community can do for the sake of its residents. We can expect to hear more from DCS’s Reentry Division and their community partners.
The community partners and organizations that were present at the fair are listed below:
- Atlanta Food Bank
- Applied Research Services
- FDIC Money Smart
- GA Calls
- Georgia Department of Labor
- Georgia Gwinnett College
- Greater Gwinnett Reentry Alliance
- Gwinnett County Sherriff Department – GRIP program
- Gwinnett County Judicial Circuit
- Hearts to Nourish Hope
- Hope Atlanta
- Navigate Recovery Gwinnett
- Office of Governor Deal
- Healing Communities
- Step By Step Recovery
- Tabernacle International Church
- The Salvation Army
- The Source Church
- Viewpoint Health
- Vital Signs Reentry Ministry
- Walk Across America