When someone gets out of jail or prison, they are usually hard-pressed to find an opportunity that takes them in a different direction than the one that led them to incarceration in the first place.
People typically go back to the same block in the same city, spend their time with the same people, and according to national statistics, 73 percent of them will be back behind bars before long.
A local group of community leaders, parishioners and law enforcement officials see the national statistics as unacceptable, and they are working to create a program that will help break the cycle for one of society's most neglected populations - ex-convicts.
"People are more eager to get behind something that is for children or another cause than one for convicts," said Jim Quattrone, a lieutenant with the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office who is spearheading the effort to create the recidivism prevention program. "But this is important work for a number of reasons. If you can teach someone how to hold a job, how to be a better parent and how to live like a productive member of society, it is much less likely that they will re-offend."
Quattrone and the overall group, the United Christian Advocacy Network (UCAN), is preparing to launch its day program in the Gateway Center in Jamestown, occupying the space where TJ's Plumbing and Heating once was.
"We would like to eventually create a residential transition house for people coming out of jail and prison but we are starting with a day program that will teach people life skills and work on cognitive development," Quattrone said. "People will enroll by choice and the program will be based on Christian principles, although it will be open to anyone of any denomination."
CORRECTION- The Phone number to call for more information about the program is 716-490-3300.
According to a report by the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services, of the 24,233 offenders released from the Department of Correctional Services in 2005, 2.7 percent returned to prison for a new felony within one year; 7.7 percent returned to prison within two years and 10.9 percent returned to prison within three years.
The number of people returning to prison for a parole violation was considerably higher with 16.4 percent going back in the first year, 26.8 percent in the second year and 30.3 percent in the third year after release.
"The statistics are unacceptable and there are times I'm writing a report on someone and I don't even need to ask them their date of birth because I've written it so many times," Quattrone said. "With a mentorship program in place, you can cut these rates considerably and it is important not only for the people in the program, but also for public safety. Many people come home from prison with nothing and fall back into the same patterns that landed them there in the first place. If we can provide them positive reinforcement and the skills to be successful, the chances are much higher that they will turn their life around and everyone benefits from that."
On Wednesday at the Gateway Center, UCAN is hosting two events aimed at educating the public about its efforts and obtaining community support. There will be a luncheon at noon and a dessert provided at 7 p.m. as the group further explains the program, its intentions and the ways it is expected to benefit the area and its people.
With support from several law enforcement agencies, politicians and ordinary citizens in the area, the group is hoping to attract anyone looking to contribute in some way, whether it is through money, time or by donating a skill.
For more information, Jim Quattrone can be reached by calling 490-3300 or via e-mail at email@example.com.