NEW HAVEN, Conn. — When city residents are released from prison, Earl Bloodworth is often there to pick them up.
Bloodworth, 42, is the program manager for the Warren Kimbro Reentry Project, or WKRP, and he’s doing his part to help reduce recidivism in the city. Part of the need is transportation.
“It’s extremely challenging. We work with individuals who are at high to moderate risk to recidivate,” said Bloodworth, who is a New Haven native.
“We work with some of the toughest cases,” he said. “It’s our goal to try to change their thought process so they can make better decisions and get off of the carrousel of coming in and out of prison.”
The project is a partnership between the city, Project MORE Inc., Easter Seals Goodwill Industries and the Community Action Agency of New Haven, according to the city website.
It’s named in honor of the late Warren Kimbro, former executive director of Project MORE, Inc., who was incarcerated at one time and helped rebuild his life and dedicated it to supporting thousands of people rebuild their lives after they returned to New Haven from prison.
The partners provide case management services and connect returning individuals to services offered by the many partners who supported Second Chance 2.0. (In 2015, Connecticut passed legislation to help ensure that nonviolent offenders are successfully reintegrated into society and become productive workers in Connecticut’s economy, by emphasizing treatment and rehabilitation over punishment for small nonviolent drug crimes, says 211.ct.org.)
Each month the city receives more than 100 parolees, probationers and others who have completed their sentence. Inmates are eligible for the project if they are at least 18 and are returning to the city or who may be released to parole, probation, halfway houses or are at the end of their sentence.
The project’s goal is to attain a 50 percent reduction in the recidivism rate of the target population within five years through a coordinated and individualized re-entry plan.
Bloodworth, who has been running the program for almost a year, oversees a $1 million budget that was part of $2.3 million grant awarded to Connecticut by the U.S. Justice Department in October 2015. The New Haven grant is being used to focus on prisoners up to 12 months before their release to ensure they have jobs when they are released.
The grant will be exhausted by October 2018.
Bloodworth said finding employment and housing is challenging for many and is part of the kind of connections the program works to make. Some of those connections include partnering with Workforce Alliance/American Job Center, Columbus House Inc. and the New Haven Housing Authority. All individuals have to be registered with 2-1-1, the local services connection.
“We’re going to have go-getters who come out of prison and keep their head down and do what they have to do to find employment or complete whatever program to get on with their life,” said Bloodworth.
However, lack of technical and soft skills and transportation are some reasons individuals have difficulty finding employment, according to Bloodworth.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. You don’t start to turn your life around once you walk out of those prison doors — they need to begin to turn things around while incarcerated,” he said.
Bloodworth said an example of the complexity of providing assistance is demonstrated by the fact that when individuals are released from prison “they have the clothes on their back and the shoes on their feet along with a clear white plastic bag with all their belongings.”
He said many do not have a place to live.
In some cases, individuals with felony records are prohibited from public housing even when their families reside in those communities.
“We have to try and find affordable, adequate and safe housing for these returning citizens,” said Bloodworth. “Most times they have no place to go and are unable to reunite with family members for a multitude of reasons.”
Project Fresh Start Reentry Program Manager Clifton Graves said his program, which also aims to reduce recidivism and increase employment for those released from prison, works with referrals sent by WKRP.
About 54 percent of the men and women discharged from Connecticut prisons returned to prison within three years, according to data collected by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.
About 50 percent of those who were rearrested within one year faced drug-related charges; less than one in five were charged with violent offenses.
The data also shows that 2,532 of every 100,000 black residents in Connecticut are incarcerated; 1,401 of every 100,000 Hispanic residents are incarcerated; and 211 of 100,000 white residents are incarcerated.
“We believe the premise and promise of the Warren Kimbro Reentry Program is not only a necessary complement to the Fresh Start program, but more importantly, it’s a necessary initiative if we as a city, state,and society are truly committed to have an effective, efficient and compassionate re-entry program,” said Graves.
Project Fresh Start provides referrals for food, health care, clothing, obtaining identification and more.
“We will continue to serve the thousands of formerly incarcerated presently residing in the Greater New Haven area,” he said.
Another strong partner and advocate for WKRP, according to Bloodworth, is the state Department of Correction.
WKRP’s DOC liaison Richard Stratton said the partnership is critical in assisting program participants to successfully re-enter the community after a period of incarceration.
“This partnership allows community providers to engage with participants three to 12 months prior to release,” said Stratton.
It also, “enables ongoing information and status changes to be shared between WKRP and DOC, and facilitates coordination for purposes of planning for release,” he said.
Stratton said his role is to identify potential program participants, coordinate entry into DOC correctional facilities, refer participants for pre-release programming and provide updated release information to WKRP staff.
Amid the state’s budget crisis, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal called for many cuts to health care and social services, some of which directly affect the re-entry population.
Mary Loftus, who is lead case manager for Easter Seals Goodwill Industries Re-Entry Services program, said the ability to make a strong impact is impaired by the lack of funding necessary to provide for basic needs.
“WKRP is very new. If we are able to survive the budget cuts and threats, as well as expand our ability to help provide basic needs, we can be very successful,” Loftus said.
“Basic needs such as housing and employment are vital for anyone to be successful. You can’t think beyond today when you don’t know where you’ll be laying your head tonight,” she said.
While the challenges may seem insurmountable, Bloodworth remains enthusiastic about the reach of the program.
“I’ve been in the fell clutch of circumstance before, but, this is an opportunity for me to help stem the tide of recidivism,” said Bloodworth.
“This work is a labor of love but very resource-intensive, which requires a great deal of collaboration and teamwork to be successful.”
Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com