A New Orleans program that has helped hundreds of former inmates get jobs and stay out of trouble is among six statewide that will shut down or scale back operations this week because the state has decided to use federal money that financed them for something else, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. Volunteers of America’s Post Release Skills Program will shut its doors unless another source of money surfaces. Faced with impending budget cuts, Project Return, another local program, closed in May. For the federal fiscal year that ends Thursday, seven free programs combined had received $4.5 million in financing that the state originally received from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program; the money was part of a $70 million surplus that Louisiana had accumulated over time but that the federal government had directed the state to spend. Last spring, with about $5 million was left, the legislature and executive branch officials agreed to spend the money on other programs, many of them for children. Part of the thinking involved was that prekindergarten programs reduce the chances that children will become juvenile delinquents or adult criminals.
Corrections Undersecretary Trey Boudreaux, who acknowledged that his task is challenging, is trying to recruit community and faith-based organizations to offer services for ex-offenders. The programs that are affected by the depletion of funds have offered “one-stop” aid for ex-offenders’ many needs, he said. He is trying to assist all of the 15,000 inmates that are released from prisons in Louisiana each year. About half of them go back to jail in five years. By comparison, Volunteers of America has a recidivism rate of only 9 percent for the 150 people who graduate from the program each year.