Sheriff Gary Sisk launches convict mentoring program in Catoosa County

Sheriff Gary Sisk launches convict mentoring program in Catoosa County

January 22nd, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Catoosa County, Ga., Sheriff Gary Sisk

Photo by Tim Omarzu/Times Free Press.

GET INVOLVED

Anyone interested in joining Project Change can call Cindy Graham at 706-965-6862, ext. 1130.

Catoosa County, Ga., Sheriff Gary Sisk wants residents to help reduce crime.

During a lunch with community leaders, ministers, prosecutors, public defenders and government officials, Sisk announced at the Catoosa County Civic Center on Tuesday that he is launching Project Change, a mentoring program aimed at helping soon-to-be-free inmates and their families. Sisk said he wants members of the community to take a two-hour class on mentoring "as soon as possible."

Sisk, who was elected sheriff in August 2012, ran on a campaign of reducing the rate of repeat crime and "generational crime" -- a child following in his criminal parents' footsteps. Project Change is aimed at accomplishing those goals, he said.

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study that examined inmates released from prison in 1994, about 70 percent of former prisoners are arrested again within three years of being released. At the Catoosa County Jail on Tuesday morning, Sisk said, one-half of all inmates were there because they had violated their probation.

"They're in a hole," the sheriff said. "It's hard for them to look up and see daylight. That's a problem."

Sisk said he wants to form partnerships with anyone who is interested in helping. If you can teach an inmate how to handle finances, he said, you should join. If you can offer religious guidance, that, too, is welcome. There are no specific plans for Project Change. That's on purpose.

Cindy Graham, who has worked as a full-time counselor at the Catoosa County Jail since July, will meet with inmates to determine specifically what they need to prepare for life outside of jail. Then, Graham will look at who has signed up to volunteer and in what areas those volunteers specialize. Graham will then match volunteers to inmates.

Sisk said he organized Tuesday's event by writing about 200 invitations to community leaders, including Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin, Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader and Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson.

He and Graham hoped the lunch would start the process of gathering volunteers.

"More will get involved," Graham said. "Then we can start seeing the changes. That's so important. For so long, everybody's done the same thing: They get in, they get out, they get in, they get out. They're doing the same thing and expecting different results. The system itself is letting them in, letting them out, expecting different results."

After Sisk's speech, Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Brian Owens told the crowd that he supports any plan to reduce the rate of recidivism.

"What is the biggest social ill of the 21st century?" he asked the crowd. "I would say mass incarceration. Mass incarceration doesn't solve anything."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@times freepress.com.