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Federal grant for Newport News to boost sheriff’s inmate reentry program

Daily Press - 5/5/2023

The Newport News Sheriff’s Office will soon expand its inmate reentry program with more than a half million dollars in federal funds.

Newport News received $760,000 in federal grant funding this week earmarked for programs to combat gun violence among youth.

That money will help fund initiatives in the reentry program, including housing, transportation and utility assistance, and the hiring of case managers. The reentry program is designed to help reduce recidivism by providing assistance to people exiting jail.

About $312,500 of the money will go toward housing assistance for about 100 people and cover moving in fees associated with securing housing after jail, utilities and essential household goods.

The Sheriff’s Office will also use the money to hire two to three reentry case managers, provide transportation to help people get to work and school, and hire a consulting firm to evaluate the success of the program.

Sheriff Gabe Morgan said the reentry program started in 2008. At that time, it wasn’t popular.

“There wasn’t a lot of support for reentry,” he said. “You know, the rhetoric was always ‘Lock folks up, throw away the keys. If they did the crime, they had to do the time.’”

Even though data showed “just locking people up” and “talking tough” didn’t make communities safer, he said it was what often got people elected.

But the reentry program has won more widespread support over the years. People who committed crimes would eventually come back into the community “whether we liked it or not,” Morgan said, noting about 95% of incarcerated individuals come back into the community. When people do return from prison, they can face difficulties getting a job and finding a place to live.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison every year. However, studies show that approximately two-thirds will likely be rearrested within three years of release.

As part of the reentry program, the Newport News Sheriff’s Office works with residents who have served time in the city or state prisons. It prepares them for release with programs like GED studies, anger management, and drug treatment and recovery. Support continues once the person is back in the community.

“The moment you’re arrested, we assess you,” Morgan said. “We look at your strengths and weaknesses. What are the underlying issues that helped you to be incarcerated? Were you unemployed, under-educated, have a substance abuse issue? Or was it a one-off? So we assess that. And then we begin to drive you to, or direct you or steer you to programs to address those underlying issues.”

He said one of the biggest challenges for people leaving prisons and jails is finding sustainable housing and that the federal money will help “bridge that gap.”

Last year, the sheriff’s office serviced about 300 people through the reentry program.

In addition to the reentry program, some of the federal dollars will also be used to boost the police department’s storage capacity for body-worn camera footage and support crime victims and witnesses through relocation assistance.

Josh Janney,

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