Michael Robinson, 45, served 18½ years in federal prison on drug charges. After his release, he was required to report to a probation officer and stay out of trouble or potentially face going back behind bars. “I really had given up, and I was like, ‘Go ahead and put me back,’ ” he told the Pensacola (FL) News Journal. “I was really feeling that.” Then Robinson was tossed a lifeline by a court system he despised.
He is one of 10 participants in the Robert A. Dennis Re-entry Court, designed to help people on supervised release keep their lives on track and successfully re-enter society. The program, named after a public defender who died of cancer, began in March. U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers heads it; her team includes a prosecutor, a public defender, probation officers, a mental health counselor and others, all working to help the offender stay drug-free, crime-free, employed and out of prison. The team has helped participants find jobs, get to job interviews, move, and more. Participants also have received funds through the federal Second Chance Act. “For the first time in some of these people’s lives, someone is really standing behind them and helping them,” said John Bingham, a mental health counselor. “This is a new approach for these folks.” Rodgers is pleased with the program so far. Of the 10 participants, eight have jobs; none has failed a drug test.