This is needed at the state level
Birmingham CARE program, aimed at keeping ex-inmates from returning to prison, graduates first participants
February 17, 2013 at 12:29 PM
Each man had convictions for gun crimes and had drug issues. They each had been in prison or jail more than once. And they all had been identified as among those at highest risk to commit another crime, making them eligible for the newly created Court Assisted Reentry Effort – or CARE – program.
The program is aimed at keeping ex-inmates out of trouble — and prison – again through more intensive supervision and help with restoring their lives.
After more than a year in the program all four men remain out of prison. Three sat again before Bowdre this past Wednesday for a CARE graduation ceremony in her courtroom at the Hugo L. Black U.S. Courthouse in Birmingham.
The judge handed two men certificates of graduation and the other one a certificate of participation. Another man is in a drug-rehabilitation program and did not graduate.
The names of the men are not being publicly released.
“It has been a wonderful but sometimes bumpy year for us,” Bowdre told the three men.
Each man faced different obstacles. Bowdre said among them they all completed a cognitive behavior therapy program, worked on getting driver’s licenses restored, and secured steady employment.
One enrolled in a GED course, another in a trade school course. Some have overcome drug issues, dealt with family dynamics issues, learned more about being a good father, addressed anger issues, learned about financial management, and all studied Andy Andrews’ seven decisions for success he first wrote about in his book “The Traveler’s Gift.” The men also had to meet regularly with Bowdre in court.
“While not a perfect record, the men have done really well this year,” Bowdre said before the ceremony.
“The CARE team — prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers and me — have taken the men and their families fishing, hosted a picnic, gone bowling, and played basketball with them (and the Samford University men’s basketball team), all the while modeling how to interact with their children and have fun in positive ways,” Bowdre said.
“While one of our participants is now at the Salvation Army to address his long-term drug problems, all the men have made major strides toward drug-free/crime-free productive lives — so different from the lives they led before their last term in federal prison.”
One of the men who graduated said he still has some obstacles, including issues with getting a permanent job in his trade as an electrician. “It’s not easy making your way back into society” with the stigma of being an ex-prisoner and money issues, he said.
The men will continue on regular probation supervision. Bowdre told the men the CARE team will still be there to help them if issues come up. A couple of the men could be eligible for having their supervised probation time shortened for having completed the program and continued success during the first part of their probation.
CARE team members from the U.S. Attorneys Office, U.S. Probation Office, Federal Public Defender’s Office spoke at last week’s ceremony.
“I’m proud of each one of you. I’ve seen the growth in each one of you,” despite some bumps in the road, probation officer Melissa Torres said.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney John England III told the men that after the first year of the CARE program he had a better appreciation for the challenges they faced as they re-entered the community.
Bowdre said the CARE team is considering whether to bring in a consultant to evaluate the program to tweak it before another group of ex-inmates is selected for the program.
Federal courts around the country have been experimenting with inmate re-entry programs in the past decade. The northern district had a drug court for about a year and a half but that ended in 2011 with a decision to start one aimed at those at the highest risk for re-offending.
A number of former federal prisoners return to jail within a few years. In the federal court’s Northern District of Alabama during fiscal year 2011, 101 out of 435 supervision cases, or 23 percent, were closed by the probation office because the ex-inmate had their probation revoked and they were sent back to prison.