Comanche County discusses prisoner re-entry program

Comanche County discusses prisoner re-entry program

LAWTON, Okla._Residents of Comanche County met to discuss the possibility of starting a prisoner re-entry program in Lawton.

They are designed to help inmates get an education, employment and find a place to live when they re-enter the community after serving time for their crimes.

Advocates believe if a re-entry program were created in the community, it could mean a positive outcome for former offenders.

Steve Gordon is a former prisoner and now works as an advocate for inmates.

"I did about three and a half years in the Oklahoma prison system, and when I came out I had a very unusual experience. My family stood by me and supported me through my whole experience and were welcoming when I got out. When I stepped out of the prison, I had a parent standing there waiting for me. I had a job. I had a car. I had a place to live…nobody gets that," Gordon said.

Most inmates are only given a one-way bus ticket and a $50 money order when they leave.

Gordon says there should be a program created by local groups working together to help supply former prisoners with the basics.

"You need to have a place to live. You need to have a safe, supportive place to live. Homeless people can hold down a job, but not very easily," Gordon said.

Lawton Community Corrections Center district supervisor Jeff Woody oversees more than 3,000 people on probation and parole. He's convinced a re-entry program would cut down the number of repeat offenders.

"At that point, they are going to be our neighbors and they will be in the community. They are looking for work, and so by more involvement with the community—whether it is through housing, jobs, education—it is better able to help them be successful and we can start that even before they leave the facility," Woody said.

Gordon says in working with former offenders, he has learned that his situation is very rare.

"I was so grateful once I realized the devastating effects of poverty and not having anything and people being at risk for homelessness the day they walk out of prison. And I realize the blessing that I had in my life," Gordon said.

Currently, the Lawton Community Corrections Center does offer 45 work release beds where inmates can go out into the community and have full time jobs, so that when they are able to go out into the community they actually have money saved up.

The discussion for a prisoner re-entry program in Comanche County is still in the preliminary phase. The options that could be put in place include a community-based program, started by local churches and organizations, that would provide all the basic needs for former inmates.