Program Helps Ex-Offenders Reintegrate into Community

Post a Comment » Written on February 8th, 2008     
Filed under: News
OAKLAND, CA (February 8, 2008) – The members of Bay Area Christian Connection (BACC) believe that Christ’s call to visit prisoners extends beyond the time of incarceration.

Transitioning to life outside the prison walls often is a difficult process, with many people returning to crime. The church is providing the opportunity for ex-offenders to start afresh.

Bay Area Christian Connection (BACC), which is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church, partners with Volunteers of America and the city to host Project Choice. The project is an initiative that seeks to reintegrate violent ex-offenders from the criminal justice system back into the Oakland community.

The church began working with the seven-year-old project in 2007, says Pastor Brian Woodson, because “we want to reach the lost, the least and the looked over.”

Among them are the 3,000 parolees who live in Oakland, says Pamela Jordon, the congregation’s minister of congregational care. Many of the parolees will be incarcerated again, statistics suggest.

The ex-offenders often are ill equipped for their return to society, which also requires adjusting to new freedoms. “They are leaving a life where they have been caged and all of their life was controlled,” Woodson says. “Once the ex-offender is paroled, they have no more skills than when they were incarcerated.”

Anywhere from 35 to 150 people attend Wednesday night classes and workshops at the church, where they learn different life skills that organizers believe can reduce recidivism. Speakers teach life skills that include handling finances and job interviewing. A recent class focused on HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.

Several of the ex-offenders have turned to Jordon for counseling, and some have attended worship services. Others who might attend services are unable to because they still are in halfway houses and are not permitted to be away from the residence except to look for work or education.

The program benefits more people than just the participants, says Jordon. “It also positively influences the young people who witness their achievement, rather than their repeated incarceration.”

One ex-offender says the program has encouraged him to be that example. “It has compelled me to utilize my abilities, and has personally provided me with work and vocational skills along with the incentive to live within the law,” he says. “Project Choice has directed me to multiple resources and has increased my value for human life.”

The Project Choice advisory committee includes parole, corrections, police, employment, and health agency representatives, as well as a formerly incarcerated member, a community organizer, and staff members representing faith and community based providers.

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