The Associated Press profiles one of the nation’s first prisoner re-entry courts, run by Judge James Henson in Richland County, Ohio. The program can lend help in many forms. One man had to get his teeth fixed for work, which federal grant money paid for. Others need glasses, food, or bus fare. All of them need jobs. “These people are broken,” program coordinator Toya Bowman said. “We want to up the standards, but not so high that you can’t reach.” Since the court started in 1999, Bowman has worked with prison officials to select participants based on their ability to respond to treatment.
“I essentially changed the (Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation),” Bowman said. “I had to get the wardens on board. There was a lot of politics then, but we changed the whole dynamic. The word ‘re-entry’ had never existed.” The felony re-arrest rate for graduates of the year-long court — about two-thirds of those who enter — is 4 percent within one year of release. That’s microscopic in a prison system nationwide that averages 44 percent. “We show these numbers to criminal justice experts and professors and they just fall over,” said Dave Leitenberger, chief county probation officer. “It took us 10 years to finally see real funding coming in. For the little bit of money that it costs, it’s a bargain.”