By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Mayor Randall Woodfin on Monday announced a Re-entry Task Force designed to help rebuild families after the incarceration of loved ones and to help reduce the recidivism rate.
The announcement was made in collaboration with the Dannon Project, a Birmingham-based organization which provides assistance to previously incarcerated individuals by helping with skills training, education and job placement.
The objective of the task force is to make sure individuals recently released from prison receive the help they need, the mayor said. He added that two-thirds of state prisoners are re-arrested within three years of release.
The mayor was joined by Kerri Pruitt of the Dannon Project; Brandon Johnson, director of the city’s Community Engagement Office and Stephanie Hicks of the Offender’s Alumni Association.
Woodfin said the task force will reflect his commitment to the community. Some of the goals are to: find task force members with firsthand experience in dealing with incarceration; establish the scale and nature of recidivism; determine the key causes of recidivism and support families and communities impacted by recidivism
“Clearly there’s a genuine need and a sense of urgency to examine how we can improve the system to help who are wanting to be helped,” he said.
To that end, Woodfin announced a Second Chance Job Fair on May 30 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Bill Harris Arena. There will also be job readiness workshops to help prepare for the fair, “or any job,” on Tuesday, May 22 from 12:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. at 3216 4th Ave. S.
“It’s important to let people know of these opportunities,” he said.
Johnson offered statistics that spoke of why the program is needed: Alabama is 25 percent African American while the jail population in Alabama is 53 percent black. Birmingham is 74 percent African American.
“By the numbers we know we have an issue on hand,” Johnson said. “In order to stabilize communities, help families affected by the criminal justice system, we established this task force to create a better, safer city for all the citizens.”
Hicks, a former offender who served time in a federal prison in Aliceville, said she talked to Woodfin about how some members of the community are often left behind.
“We need a concerted effort to help those who are coming home” from prison, she said. “One thing we don’t do is take the time to understand the challenges involved in returning back to society.”
Hicks said she has a master’s degree and still struggled to find work and a place to live after being released from prison.
Pruitt said the mayor, law enforcement and others “have to be the agent of change for our community.”