Life after jail: fighting Louisiana’s recidivism rate with opportunity

Life after jail: fighting Louisiana’s recidivism rate with opportunity
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POSTED: Saturday, January 4, 2014 - 11:00pm

UPDATED: Wednesday, January 15, 2014 - 10:45am

Louisiana continues to lead the country with the nation’s largest per-capita inmate population. Just over 45% of those people who do time end up going back again and again, but there's a small group of dedicated people working to try and cut that vicious cycle.

For years Scott Huffman lived his life in and out of parish prisons, for different drug crimes.

"(my life) just wild and chaotic, I probably would be dead if I would have continued trekking down the path that I was on, it was going to lead to death," reflected Huffman.

In 2009 Huffman finally made a mistake big enough to move him from the parish prisons to serious jail time in a state penitentiary.

"Court systems got pretty fed up with me so they sentenced me to a five year sentence with the department of corrections," explained Huffman.

Huffman’s saving grace came from James Windom and his group, the Capital Area Reentry Coalition. The organization works to help returning citizens like Huffman. It gives them a life after prison in a state where more than 45 percent of inmates go back to jail over and over again.

“Every day, unfortunately it's every day. The recidivism rate you can look at them from anywhere from 40% to 67% depending on the research that you see," shared East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore.

"The more opportunities we can give these men and women to have the life they've always intended to have, the less likely they are to return, which means our communities are safer and instead of having an individual in our communities who's a liability, he's now an asset," shared Windom.

Windom found Huffman while serving he was serving out his jail sentence, and offered him a way out, through the work he could do with his own hands.

"I had never met anyone who was deaf prior to my incarceration, but when I noticed the language and I started studying it, learning it. I was anxious about it, I loved it, it developed in to a passion. Everyday that was all I wanted to do all day was sign, sign, sign," recalled Huffman.

The amount of repeat offenders has steadily declined with programs like these.
Windom and others are convinced if more inmates got opportunities like he did that number would be even lower.

"If we all work together, we can make sure those men and women coming out of incarceration, every year 16,000 of them, will have bona fide opportunities to succeed. If they succeed, we all succeed," said Windom.

As a full time sign language interpreter Huffman is working, providing form himself and his son. But it's those things you can't put a price on that mean the most in his life after prison.

"That’s the most satisfying thing now is, I get to talk to my son everyday. I get to tell him 'I love you'. And I mean it, and he knows that I mean it, and he knows that every day he's going to wake up and I am going to be there," shared Huffman.

To find out how you can help with the Capital Area Reentry Coalition’s efforts, click here.

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