From 2009 to 2014, the state of Georgia released an average of 20,000 prisoners each year back into their communities, according to the Georgia Center for Opportunity. Nationally, four in 10 prisoners return to prison after three years, according to the Pew Center.
It was statistics like these that led Dr. David Boyle and numerous others to create the LaFayette Area Corrections Task Force, an organization dedicated to providing assistance and services for citizens returning to their local communities after being released.
"Oftentimes, people will leave prison with a bus ticket and $25 and be told to report to an officer within a week," said Boyle. "For people who have lost connections with their families or communities, this can result in them ending back up in trouble."
The task force is hosting a meeting Saturday, April 29 at Highlands Presbyterian Church for individuals interesting in becoming part of a mentoring program organized in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Community Supervision. The workshop will educate attendees on how to properly mentor someone trying to re-enter their community after serving time in jail or prison.
"People that want to help and have the motivation to help will get necessary skills in relationship building and support for a returning citizen," Boyle said.
The workshop will focus on informing people what the prison system is like, what former prisoners have experienced as part of institutional living, how to interview and talk with someone who's experienced those things, and how to identify and build on each individual's strengths so he or she can acclimate to the community more quickly.
Boyle said the workshop is the first step in a multi-step process the task force hopes will make LaFayette and the rest of North Georgia an easier place for former prisoners to find the support they need to adequately reintegrate into the community.
Other steps include organizing support groups for family and friends of people currently incarcerated so they know there are others like them, and securing temporary housing in the region so returning citizens without anyplace to go can have an address and roof over their heads while they search for work or schooling opportunities.
"We'll be working with the Department of Community Supervision to have a matching process for our mentors to volunteer their time with a former prisoner," Boyle said. "The fact is this: People are going to come out with or without help. The idea is for people who feel the call or desire to help to have the tools to help these individuals build a new, productive and independent life."
During his investigations and discussions with the GDCS and locals who have served prison sentences, Boyle said he's seen appalling conditions. He said he knew of four or so former prisoners who slept under one particular bridge in Ringgold for months, their parole officers even visiting there since the men had nowhere else to go.
While there are often such resources for women and families, they're virtually nonexistent for men, Boyle said.
"Officers would get them tents and sleeping bags. That's the only place they had to stay," he said. "Hearing stories like that, we're compelled to get moving on this."
The workshop is completely free and anyone in the region can attend, not just residents of LaFayette or Walker County. After all, Boyle said, people are trying to reintegrate into their communities throughout the state.
The workshop begins at 9:30 a.m. For more information about what it and the mentoring process will entail, contact John Bruce with the Georgia Department of Community Supervision at 706-483-7371 or firstname.lastname@example.org.