By STACY MILLBERG - firstname.lastname@example.org
As prison inmates prepare to re-enter society, several organizations have stepped up to help them make the transition.
About 200 inmates at the Lake Erie Correctional Institution participated in a re-entry fair Wednesday. Sixteen organizations provided a variety of resources to those inmates who are within six months of being released.
“We try to get them prepared for going home,” said Clarice Wofford, re-entry coordinator for LaECI. “This helps them transition.”
Wofford said the prison hosts two re-entry fairs a year, one in July and one in December. Most of the agencies participating in the event are from northeast Ohio, she said.
“We connect them with the agencies to prepare them for their release,” Wofford said.
As an example, healthcare agencies were on site to assist inmates who will not have health insurance once they are released.
“We try to think holistically, as to what the inmates may need once they are released,” she said.
In addition to the re-entry fairs, Wofford also holds classes for the inmates to help prepare them for their release.
“If an individual is not prepared to go home, they end up back here,” she said. “This way, they can start planning and get connected.”
Wofford said she even gets the inmates connected with the Cleveland Food Bank so they can get set up with food stamps when they are released. If an inmate will receive Social Security compensation upon his release, Wofford helps them start the process.
Only those inmates who are nearing their release are invited to the event, which is not mandatory, she said.
“They have to be on the list to come,” she said.
Steve Sargent, director of the Samaritan House in Ashtabula, said his organization offers housing to inmates who are homeless when they are released. He comes to the facility once a month to talk with inmates who are getting ready to be released.
“Even if they don’t come to our facility, there are other places in the state for them,” he said.
Sargent said the Samaritan House only sees about one or two inmates a year as most of them are from outside the area.
“The vast majority go back to wherever they are from,” he said. “Some don’t have any other options though.”
Wofford said the re-entry fair gives inmates a head start at starting over.
“We used to have people leave here homeless,” she said. “We would just drop them off at a bus stop and let them go.”
Wofford said if the counties are more prepared to help them, the inmates feel more like citizens.
“There used to be a stigma, but now (counties) are realizing they have to help them,” she said.
Brent Richards, chaplain with City Mission in Cleveland, said many of the inmates reside at his facility once they are released.
“We help them re-integrate into their communities, with a support system,” he said.