Transitional Programs Help Vets in Prison
The following article, a republication with permission from a local hometown Illinois newspaper, illustrates what can be done at local levels, with state support, to help reduce recidivism. Though local in nature, and specific to reentry programs for a special group of inmates, U.S. military veterans, it proves that it’s possible to slash prison return rates of ex-offenders to a mere 6 to 8%.
BY MARY WICOFF
DANVILLE, November 08, 2009 — Even when they’re in prison, those who served in the armed forces continue to be proud of their military service. And, even in prison, they still have access to resources.
At the Danville Correctional Center (Danville, IL), 78 men are declared veterans out of a population of 1,842. The number could be higher, but some don’t share the fact that they’re veterans, for various reasons, such as fear of losing benefits, said employee Kerrick Kiley. Kiley is coordinator of the DANVETS group at the prison, which is open to all inmates who have been in the service. Most of the incarcerated vet prisoners served in the military during the 1980s and ’90s, although some are from the Vietnam era and some are from the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kiley said.
Kiley, who’s been coordinator four years, said DANVETS is about six years old. The veterans gather to offer each other support and advice, raise money for special projects such as Angel Tree, and sponsor activities. One of those special events was an early Veterans Day program last week, attended by more than 100 people. The event featured presentations, music by the seven-member prison band, speeches and a drill-team performance. The theme was “Pride and Passion,” and the bond of having shared a military experience was evident.
The main speaker was Randy VanVickle, veteran’s representative at the Illinois Department of Employment Security. He also coordinates the Illinois’ Incarcerated Veterans Transitional Program, another resource offered to veterans in prison. It’s funded by the Labor Department. At the Veterans Day program, VanVickle urged the men to focus on what they do have, not what they don’t have.
Danville has had the program three years, VanVickle said, and is one of seven prisons in the state that has it. He counsels anywhere from eight to 15 veterans at a time. The transitional program is open to prisoners who are within two years of being released. It offers 10 workshops on subjects such as employment, housing, education, benefits and others. For example, VanVickle said he was able to set up one man at Northern Illinois University, and made sure he had room and board.
Both Society and Veterans Benefit from Program
The program has been successful in easing veterans back into society, he said, citing a 6-8 percent recidivism rate. That compares to about 60 percent recidivism for other inmates who are released. “We give them resources they use,” VanVickle said.
Kiley said both the DANVETS and the transitional program have one goal: making sure the veterans are successful when they’re released. “A lot of these guys don’t realize they qualify for these benefits,” Kiley said.
VanVickle said some are apprehensive about asking for help, and they consider it a weakness. However, when veterans work with veterans — such as through DANVETS or the transitional program — they’re more comfortable.
Anoher aspect of the veterans’ group is that the men donate money and food to community groups. The DANVETS collected $320 for the Angel Tree, which provides gifts to children of prisoners. The men also donate money and collect food for the Danville Salvation Army.
“They did serve their country,” Kiley said. “They want to give back to the community and different organizations.” Salvation Army Capt. Judy Lowder thanked the inmates during last week’s program, saying, “I know it’s a huge sacrifice on your behalf. Every little bit helps, whatever you give — time, talent, prayers.”
By being in the military, they gained many skills, such as: training for different jobs, learning to work with a variety of people, leadership, discipline, a strong work ethic and how to deal with adversity. “The U.S. military has some of the best training in the world,” he said. “You deserve to be successful when you leave here.” He reminded the men that they still qualify for veterans’ benefits and there’s a network of veteran providers available.
After the program, he said, “What we try to instill in them is that they have these types of skills that only veterans have.” VanVickle is an Air Force veteran, having been discharged in 1974, and Kiley is a Navy veteran, with a discharge in 1979. VanVickle goes to the prison once a month for the transitional program and every other week to the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System for the Compensated Work Therapy Program.