Offender Re-Entry Plan hits one-year mark

INDIANAPOLIS - Officials call it a blueprint for keeping Indianapolis safe and keeping ex-offenders out of prison.

It's known as the Re-Entry Plan: a guide for helping newly released inmates find their way through employment, housing and mental health issues.

In the past six months, more than 11,000 inmates new to the Marion County Hail and Department of Corrections have seen a video titled "First Day In." It's intended to plant the seeds of chance before they begin their sentence, as well as help them navigate the most basic technical skills needed when they're released.

In the year since the Re-Entry Commission report was adopted, the City-County Council has banned the box – the one that prohibits local government and the 28,000 vendors it does business with from asking a job applicant if they've been convicted of a crime.

The next challenge, they say, is convincing the private sector to follow suit.

"It's not a matter of whether you served time," said City-County Councilor Vop Osili. "It's now a matter of where you are now. And more importantly: Is the job you're going for in any way related to what you served time for."

For the 6,000-8,000 Dept. of Corrections offenders released back into Indianapolis each year, housing is always a large and looming challenge. The Re-Entry Commission has convinced the Indianapolis Housing Authority to help ex-offenders overcome that challenge.

"The Indianapolis Housing Authority has reduced the admission requirements for people with drug-related arrests from five years to three years to help increase access to housing for re-entrants," said City-County Councilor Mary Moriarity-Adams, a member of the council's Public Safety Committee.

Indianapolis police have rolled out a program that puts a police officer and a parole officer in front of a newly released offender with offers of a range of services toward employment, housing, substance abuse and mental health counseling. Those who go through the program have a recidivism rate of just 12 percent; compared to the DOC recidivism rate of 50 percent. But the city's burgeoning homicide rate and uptick in overall crime has made Re-Entry an even tougher sell to the public at large.

"It's not the murderers and these types of offenders we're letting out," said Lena Hackett, with Community Solutions Inc. "It's the low level, in and out of the system that, if we can capture them, then we can really have an impact on the system and the health of the community."

The Re-Entry Commission has calculated the benefits to the taxpayers to the tune of $5 million annually if just 1 percent of ex-offenders avoid arrest and a trip back to prison.

Many of the 26 recommendations made by the Re-Entry Commission will need approval from the state legislature. One recent change, though, will allow offenders convicted of low-level felonies to expunge or erase their conviction if they don't commit the same offense within five years.

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