July 18, 2002 – Thanks to a $1 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department, Virgin Islands prison inmates will have a chance to gain skills and get treatment aimed at keeping them on the straight and narrow once they are released.
"By educating and treating offenders, we are not only helping them improve their lives; we are reducing the chance they will return to crime and drug abuse," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said in a release. "My hope is that the re-entry programs will improve public safety and reduce the burden on law enforcement and corrections."
According to V.I. Attorney General Iver Stridiron, about 25 percent of V.I. prisoners released from jail return within three years. At mainland institutions, the repeat, or recidivism, figure ranges from 25 to 40 percent.
Stridiron said he expects the program to reduce the territory's recidivism rate to about 15 percent. It will target prisoners ages 14 to 24, the age group that he said can benefit the most from the program.
Without programs such as this, Stridiron said, incarceration is akin to warehousing inmates, so that they don't have much opportunity to learn skills that can help them stay on the outside once they're released. "I see this as an opportunity to do what prisons are supposed to do — rehabilitate," he said.
The program includes education, treatment and life skills training. Prisoners at the St. Thomas jail, who usually spend no more than a year there, will receive education and counseling, but the bulk of the territory's focus will be at the Golden Grove Correctional Facility on St. Croix, which houses long-term prisoners. As prisoners near their release date, they will receive help in preparing for the transition from prison to the outside; and once they're out, they will continue to receive support to stay out of jail.
The treatment aspect will include drug and mental-health counseling to help prisoners deal with issues that may have contributed to their criminal history.
Stridiron said that prisoners who don't have a high school education will receive help in getting their General Educational Development high school equivalency diploma, the GED. Those who want to pursue college studies will receive assistance in studying for their degree.
Vocational training will be provided in subjects such as computer technology, auto-body and automotive repairs, welding, upholstering, woodworking and carpentry. Stridiron said the Golden Grove facility already has the beginnings of a program at its crafts shop.
"I've seen the quality of work the men and women provide in prison," he said. "There's lots of natural talent."
Stridiron noted that prisoners released from jail often face housing problems because their families don't want to take them in. The program will help them find housing as well as jobs, he said.
The Virgin Islands grant is among 68 nationwide that total $100 million, to 49 states and the District of Columbia in addition to the territory. Stridiron said although the territory applied for $1 million, he expected to receive $250,000 to $400,000.
The grants, awarded by the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs, are part of the Serious and Violent Offender Re-entry Initiative. Ashcroft called the initiative an unprecedented collaboration among the Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, and Veterans Affairs Departments.
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