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Julie L. Jones, Secretary

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June 20, 2011
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Secretary Buss Speaks at Hillsborough Re-Entry Center

Department of Corrections Secretary Edwin Buss spoke at the Hillsborough Re-Entry Center on Friday. The Center opened last year to assist released inmates in completing their criminal registration requirements and to provide information about local services and programs. A Re-Entry center is slated to open in July in Pinellas County. See the story from the Tampa Tribune.

New Program Helps Ex-prisoners

The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA – Along with traditional options available to inmates upon their release from state prison — $100 and a bus ticket home; or arranging for a ride with a relative — some coming to Hillsborough County now can opt for more thorough assistance.

The Hillsborough Re-Entry Center, run by the county sheriff's office, provides departing prisoners with information about housing, jobs, substance abuse treatment and food services. Some of the former inmates receive clothes.

The local center opened Oct. 1 and bolsters an existing location where prisoners must go to register with law enforcement officials upon release.

“We act as a bridge between prisons and the return to society,” sheriff's Col. Jim Previtera said.

Ideally the center will lower the likelihood of former inmates returning to crime.

“This is a really progressive program,” said Edwin Buss, secretary for the state's Department of Corrections.

There are two similar centers in Florida – in Duval and Palm Beach counties. Buss said a center will open in Pinellas County on July 1, and he hopes every county eventually will have one.

An inmate can be shipped to a prison anywhere in the state. But now, when a prisoner from Hillsborough has less than three years remaining behind bars, he or she could choose to participate in the program and be sent one of two Polk County prisons.

About six months from their release date, a center staffer will meet with an inmate and gauge what services eventually will be needed. Staff will provide assistance on the day of release and keep helping for six months after the former prisoner's release.

State corrections officials will send an outgoing prisoner from Polk to Hillsborough's center, where sheriff's office employees provide aid. The agencies said no additional budgetary costs are needed for the program; the center's four civilian employees with the sheriff's office were diverted from existing programs.

Curtis Bass, 43, was released from prison after serving 14 years behind bars for grand theft. He said the center gave him bus passes and helped him get a better job.

Without the center's help, he said, he would have had a harder time adjusting to society. “Anytime you needed help, you called in and asked them,” he said. “If they didn't have information there, they'd locate information for you.”

More than 100 prisoners so far have received the center's services and the program soon will expand, Previtera said. By year's end the center, which is adjacent to the Orient Road Jail, could help about 100 prisoners monthly. That's about one third of all prisoners released into the county.

It's too soon to prove that such centers will keep former inmates from committing more crimes, corrections officials said. Eight of the 114 former offenders processed through the center have re-offended.

Previtera said the center's goal is to cut the percentage of re-offenders by at least 1 percent. If that happens, he said, it will save the jail $1 million a year and the prison system millions of dollars – as well as reduce the number of crime victims.

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