Faith could help parolees transition - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Faith could help parolees transition

July 20, 2006

Albany-- Right now more than 50,000 people are incarcerated in Georgia's prison system. About 18,000 will be released on parole this year but living on the outside isn't always easy for them. Many end up back in jail.  Some churches could be their salvation.

Anyone who's been incarcerated will admit it's not the best situation but some end up behind bars more than once. "I have been in and out," says Printice Ashley.

Printice Ashley has seen the inside of a jail cell more times than he'd like to remember. "I was arrested for DUI, driving under the influence, theft by taking," says Ashley. He says it took just one person to get him on the right path.

"I never spent another night in jail since God came into my life," says Ashley. And that's the goal of a new faith-based initiave in Albany, using the church and faith-based organizations to help parolees transition back into society. State Board of Pardons and Paroles Chairman Garland Hunt calls the new venture a marriage.

"A marriage between what the state can do to supervise parolees when they get out of prison that are actually ex-offenders, they're felons, but they have to be re-integrated back into our communities," says Hunt. Good intentions, but sometimes it's hard to get the community to show compassion for ex-offenders when they're released.

"Usually they're given 25 dollars and a bus ticket and usually they've already burned bridges. Their families are tired of them because they keep getting in trouble," says Hunt. So that's where local churches come in.  They'll help to nurture and direct them along with providing assistance with job preparation, housing, clothing and transportation.

"Their role is to be honest, fair and up front and our role of course is to assist them," says Dr. Oscar Benton of the I-CAN center. And ultimately, restore their faith. "I know with out a doubt because thats what church is all about. Church is about helping people," says Benton.

"If you can have somebody to lead you, that would be a great help," says Ashley. Faith was a great help to one man.  He left crime behind and is now a minister with his own business. He believes the same faith can help the thousands paroled each year in Georgia.

In Georgia, 32 percent of those released return within three years. In Dougherty County, there are about 516 parolees. The county currently helps them with drug treatment and employment assistance but the faith-based initiative will help bridge the gaps.

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