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Herring launches society assimilation program for inmates

Plan garners support from state leaders

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced a plan Monday to create a statewide re-entry coordinator position to help recently released prison inmates adjust to life outside of jail in hopes of reducing recidivism, or repeated offenses.

"The problems that lead to crime and a jail sentence, whether it's abuse, trauma, anger management, or addiction, are usually still present in offenders' lives even after they serve their sentence," Herring said in a press release.

The coordinator work with local sheriffs for state-level coordination and support.

“We’re looking for someone who has related experience that we think can work with sheriffs effectively,” Herring spokesperson Michael Kelly said.

The re-entry coordinator will be primarily responsible for addressing service gaps and facilitating coordination between sheriffs' departments and government agencies.

Herring also announced the creation of an online re-entry portal. The portal will be used as an online reference tool for the sheriffs which produces material to help former inmates.

“Right now the state offers good programs in state corrections, but jails are operated by sheriffs and we want to offer services and programs to their inmates,” Kelly said.

The program also aims to offer services specifically for female inmates.

“The lack of support for women inmates as they are released has been a tragic oversight in Virginia,” Herring said.

There has been a wide gap in the resources available for women to help them step back into society after incarceration. Female inmates are particularly at risk, as they are statistically more likely to have been sexually abused during their time in jail.

“The goal is to make sure any trauma or abuse in the past that may be leading to criminality is addressed and that we help give female inmates in particular the skills they need for success,” Kelly said.

Re-entry programs have already proven successful around the state. In Arlington, 68 percent of the inmates that completed the re-entry program did not become repeat offenders. As a result, Herring has already garnered support from some Virginia sheriffs.

"Not only do such programs help ensure success for those returning to society, but they also save our localities money,” Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur said in the press release.

Many Virginia sheriffs, legislators and community leaders have already publicly shown their support for the new initiative.

Herring said he believes creating these two strategies will save money at the local and state level. By reducing repeat offenders, jails would see a drop in the number of inmates, reducing operating cost.

Support programs are less of a strain on taxpayers’ wallets than incarceration, Kelly added.

“If we can help sheriffs keep folks out of jail that will be a big money saver,” he said.