Special Report: Helping cons go clean - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Helping cons go clean

When an inmate walks out of jail or prison, experts say the odds of returning are extremely high. When an inmate walks out of jail or prison, experts say the odds of returning are extremely high.
Colonel John Ostrander, the Dougherty County Jail director, noted four main reasons why inmates return. Colonel John Ostrander, the Dougherty County Jail director, noted four main reasons why inmates return.
The Dougherty County Jail is leading the way to reduce recidivism and release inmates with tools to become productive citizens. The Dougherty County Jail is leading the way to reduce recidivism and release inmates with tools to become productive citizens.
"Being only 21 but having a 3-year-old, I realize that I don't want this life," explained Katie, who is an inmate. "Being only 21 but having a 3-year-old, I realize that I don't want this life," explained Katie, who is an inmate.
The advice from all 4 was not to follow in their footsteps, but rather follow the rules. The advice from all 4 was not to follow in their footsteps, but rather follow the rules.
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

When an inmate walks out of jail or prison, experts say the odds of returning are extremely high.

But the Dougherty County Jail is working to change that.

It's one of the most proactive in the state, pushing programs to help inmates become successful law-abiding citizens.

In exclusive interviews, inmates shared their stories and described programs that are helping cons go clean.

The four inmates said this is not the life they planned, and that this would be their last time behind bars.

"I I had a good life I chose the streets they didn't choose me," said David, who is an inmate.

A life of crime

David told the story of how he started a life of crime at the age of 13.

"I did five years in prison for assault with a firearm," he recalled.

Another inmate, named Katie, said without the right guidance she made bad decisions.

"My mama adapted a mental illness and my dad was an alcoholic," she said.

But Katie said this time she really learned something from being incarcerated.

"All the other times I was getting in trouble I either didn't get caught or I bonded right out," she explained. 

But another person serving time, named Sedequea, said jail is worse than prison.

She should know, because she's been to both.

"In prison you can walk to the cafeteria- like a real cafeteria, like a restaurant almost," Sedequea described. "You have a library, a job, classes you can take. You can go to church."

All three of those offenders have been behind bars more than 10 times.

The fight to keep inmates from returning

Colonel John Ostrander, the Dougherty County Jail director, noted four main reasons why they return.

"Substance abuse is a terrible problem, mental health issues, [and lack of] education," said Colonel Ostrander. "Then there are those that are completely under-resourced. They just don't have the means to put a meaningful life together."

But the Dougherty County Jail is leading the way to reduce recidivism and release inmates with tools to become productive citizens.

It partners with the community to bring programs and resources to inmates at no cost to taxpayers.

"We actually have one channel on the TV system out here that scrolls that info 24/7," Ostrander said.

Inmates there are provided with printed material when they leave.

The state has also worked to reform the criminal justice system over the last few years, and offer more programs to help inmates go clean.

A new department was created in July to put all the programs and resources under one roof.

Returning citizens can find assistance with housing, education, job search, heath and more.

"It allows us here at the jail to elevate ourselves from a mere role of being a warehouse for D.C.'s criminal element," said Colonel Ostrander. "Now we're an active community partner. And those that continually come back we just identify them as the people with the greatest need that we know where to focus our attention."

Most of the inmates at the Dougherty County Jail spend 23 hours a day in a 10x6 foot cell.

What some inmates really want

Meanwhile, the reentry program is trying to prevent the revolving door.

"Being only 21 but having a 3-year-old, I realize that I don't want this life," explained Katie, who is an inmate.

One main challenge for felons on the outside of prison bars is finding a job.

"They check my background and say, 'I'm sorry, we can't interview you,'" Sedequea said.

David suggested that if more doors were open to ex-offenders, they wouldn't resort back to crime.

To him, it's about supporting his family.

The Dougherty County jail has a 100 percent graduation rate with a GED program, but some inmates don't take advantage of the programs made available to them.

"I need nothing from them," said Tony, who is incarcerated. "I'm my own man [and] make my own decisions. It's up to me if I want to come back or not."

But others say they want to take advantage of the help that is offered.

"I feel like this is my last chance to get myself together," said Sedequea.

"He deserves a better mother," Katie said, referring to her son. "My parents deserve a better daughter and I deserve a better me."

The advice from all 4 was not to follow in their footsteps, but rather follow the rules.

They encouraged others to stay in school, find a hobby, and don't adhere to peer pressure. Walk away before the door closes on the future, they said.

All 4 inmates have since been released from jail and have not returned.

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