Successful Re-Entry through Contemporary, Moral, Holistic and Life Skill Programming: An Interview with Cheryl Parks

For many people, being in jail can represent “hitting bottom.” But after a life of operating outside the law, how can someone regroup, and find a way to build a new way of life after jail?

For most people, it takes some training, a bit of rethinking one’s life, and a healthy dash of hope.

Join us Dec 4, when Cheryl Parks, Ron Budzinski, and Charles Keeton will be here to share:

  • The pioneering program’s educational, social, behavioral and spiritual components
  • Its progressive family restoration strategies
  • The impacts, post-incarceration outcome measures and future considerations.

 

Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Cheryl, you and your counterparts are new presenters here at Justice Clearinghouse. Tell us a bit about this program.

Cheryl Parks: The Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program, a faith-based program focuses on the employment of the unemployed and underemployed, was brought to Peoria, Illinois in 2000 by Heaven’s View Christian Fellowship church. The program has since then been active in Illinois’ Prisons, County Jails and one Federal Correctional Center.

Four years ago the program started for men at the Peoria County Jail, and two years ago it was expanded into the Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program. The program’s expansion required additional volunteer Subject Matter Experts (SME). This enhanced the program content with cognitive, treatment, life skills and healthy living expertise. In our Webinar, we will go into the specific SME team of participants, and the important participation of each. Two of the twenty team members are my co-presenters in this Webinar – Ron Budzinski and Charles Keeton.

 

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The recidivism rate at the Peoria County Jail

was reduced by 28%

when offenders participated

in the Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program.

~~~~~

 

JCH: Tell us a bit about the situation: what were the challenges the Peoria County Jail was facing. What were those impacts, not only to the Sheriff’s department, but also to the inmates and the community?

Cheryl:  The Peoria County Jail has an offender population that is typically around 300. Thus, it is considered a mid-size jail, with the common problems of all jails: tight budgets, high recidivism rates, troubled relationships with law enforcement, custodial and offender assaults, and deteriorating conditions of confinement. In one way or another these problems plague everyone – the Sheriff’s Department, offenders and their families, the Peoria County Board, and the taxpayers of Peoria County.

To cite one of the many facts to be illustrated in the Webinar; the recidivism rate at the Peoria County Jail was reduced by 28% when offenders participated in the Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program. If there is a single word that explains this and other positive results, it is “Hope.”

 

 

 

JCH: Your program is so innovative because it’s a holistic approach. What does that mean? Why was this so unique?

Cheryl: We believe, as Fr. David Link, Head Chaplin for the Indiana Department of Corrections has said, “Without moral inspiration during incarceration, increased recidivism, continuation of the crime cycle, and an increase in criminal violence are inevitable.” In other words, moral inspiration is key to success during and after incarceration. However, it is also important that the knowledge of “how to re-enter” be provided.

Thus, the Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program has a holistic approach to re-entry that incorporates five components: Jobs Partnership faith-based classes on character development; Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) on cognitive development; Subject Matter Experts (SME) presentations on life skills, mental health, addiction recovery, fatherhood; Family Restoration on bringing families together during and after incarceration; and, Breaking Boundaries on building positive relations between offenders and law enforcement. What this then means is that those who wish to change are given a comprehensive pathway to that change.

Therefore, what has made the Jobs Partnership Re-Entry Program unique is the realization that positive change comes in many ways and from many different sources, and the desire to make change permanent it must involve moral inspiration.

 

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To inspire change,

there needs to be a trust developed

between those providing the program

and the offenders taking the program.

~~~~~

 

JCH: What have you learned as you’ve developed and implemented this program?

Cheryl: First, we have found that it takes the support of the Sheriff.  In Peoria County, we have had the total support from Sheriff Brian Asbell. He provides staff support, teaching space, community outreach, offender screening/selection, and participates in the graduation program.

Secondly, because the program is holistic and thus requires a variety of expertise, many volunteers are required with knowledge in the areas of financial, addiction, mental health, employment, educational and vocational opportunities, and more. Conducting a Jobs Partnership Re-Entry program involves one part-time employee and 20 volunteers.

Third, we have learned that to inspire change, there needs to be a trust developed between those providing the program and the offenders taking the program. When offenders hear the volunteers offering instructions and support is without pay and with sincere desires to help, trust becomes felt and believed.

And fourth, supporting an offender’s desire to change cannot happen by taking a couple of classes. Support has to find a way to assist in many ways, such as in their court appearances, their family needs, their addiction recovery, and their employment and housing after incarceration.

 

 

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 What keeps us motivated

is seeing “Hope” come alive

in those that have been hopeless.

~~~~~

 

JCH: What drew you to this line of work? And what keeps you motivated, given all that you both see in the course of creating a program like this?

Cheryl: All of the volunteers are drawn to the opportunity to provide hope to those that have been without hope for so long.  What keeps us motivated is when offenders express that hope openly and honestly. Often at their graduation ceremony, offenders express their newly found hope. As one of our 2019 graduates said, “Thank you for having me be a part of the program. I know I needed a change. To all the presenters you gave me the knowledge, and I did install it in my brain.”

 

Click Here to Register for Successful Re-Entry through Contemporary, Moral, Holistic & Life Skills Programming.

 

 

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