A little after 10am on a sunny May 30, five women in orange prison garb filed into a closed room in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail for their graduation from a re-entry program. Started in 2005, New Horizons is mandatory for prisoners with less than six months until their release. For eight weeks, inmates undergo intensive teaching sessions from volunteers on myriad subjects, from courses in “financial literacy” to health and nutrition to CPR. As Virginia’s first attempt at such training, the ultimate goal is to equip departing residents with life skills “to stop the cycle of crime” that can ensnare not only people, but generations.
These women graduated last week from a re-entry program at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, some of the 74 women at the facility.
“I had to make a change and make some choices,” said Lisa Brown to the five inmates assembled in front of her. She now works in rehabilitation services but was in and out of the regional jail on seven occasions before she got her GED and got out of jail four years ago. ”I wish they’d had a program when I was in there.”
One of the departing inmates would be released the next day. Another is graduating from both the re-entry and GED programs and will be out in July. All will be out by August. “In September, I walked in here a lonely, depressed person,” said Angelica Fitzgerald. She leaves this month. “I came into jail one person and am leaving a whole new one.”
“I have my head up,” she continued. “One day, I want to walk back in these doors as a mentor.”
Another eight-week session starts in a couple more weeks. The program was added for women in 2007. While there are only 74 females in the jail population of more than 500, female inmates are a growing part of an already overcrowded facility.
“I do hope that it will have an impact on the recidivism rate,” says Phyllis Back, the prison’s programs manager.
“That’s one of the things we’re working on,” says Colonel Ronald Matthews, jail superintendent. “Somewhere along the line, some of it has to work, some of it has to benefit the jail and reduce our population.”
Along with the other speakers, he urged the five ladies to develop a plan for success and stick with it. “We don’t want you to come back,” he told them. A white “Happy Graduation” cake waited for them in back. “There’s a lot of people in here just wasting away.”
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