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Transition Period: This program equips Louisiana parolees with skills for life after prison

The Advocate - 11/6/2023

Nov. 6—Jocelyn Simpson is a woman with a renewed lease on life.

She relies heavily on her faith and credits God for all the successes she's enjoyed over the past several months while embarking on a journey of redemption and self-discovery.

Simpson was released from a Louisiana penitentiary earlier this year after serving over 20 years in a state prison.

For the past eight months, she's participated in a state program aimed at paving a road for people on probation and parole to transition back into society after their release from incarceration. Simpson was all smiles when she and 21 other ex-offenders graduated from the transitional program during an Oct. 20 celebration at the Baton Rouge Day Reporting Center.

"I'm not where I want to be, but I'm glad I'm not where I was," she said.

Geo Reentry Services, a Florida-based criminal justice reform company, debuted its evidence-based treatment and supervision programs for adults serving probation or parole in 2012. The company has footprints across the country, but partners with the Louisiana Division of Probation and Parole to implement its reentry programs in the Bayou State.

In Baton Rouge, the intensive nonresidential model operates out of the Day Reporting Center along Wooddale Boulevard. A team of counselors, case workers and other staff members work to teach participants life-changing skills and vocational tools to help them reintegrate into society following lengthy stints behind bars.

The goal is to reduce recidivism for those at risk and transform them into self-sustaining citizens.

"We're looking for participants who are particularly motivated," said Torrey Williams, manager of the reentry program in Baton Rouge. "We're looking to equip them with the tools and skills that they need to be successful in society."

It's designed as a 90-day program with three different phases that include computer courses, group interventions, individual sessions and vocational training.

Probation and parole officers recommend most of the participants if they think the transition program can be beneficial. One of the first obstacles organizers try to resolve is eliminating barriers like housing, clothes and food, education, and employment before digging into the underlying issues participants have.

"Once we take care of those needs, then they come into orientation," Williams said. "It's pretty hard to come here and focus on work, focus on schooling when you don't know where you're going to live tonight. So we pride ourselves on being able to take care of those needs."

Baton Rouge pastor Michael Wicker, of the Lighthouse Christian Fellowship Church, spoke to the graduates during last month's ceremony and encouraged them to continue making good decisions on bad days, in moments when their character is defined. He urged them to avoid destructive patterns and steer clear of things that can tempt them back into their old lives.

"Figure out what God wants you to do and get out there and do it," Wicker said.

Simpson said her anxiety was so severe when she initially got out of prison, that she feared venturing outside to shopping centers and stores because she worried people knew who she was and were judging her. She confided in her case workers and they helped her overcome those anxieties to the point that she now has freedom in her thoughts.

"There's nothing like having someone to have your back when you're going through something," she said. "So for me, this is just knowing that there's somebody there for me to help me stand on my own. And I'm not trying to do it all by myself, especially when I don't know it all."


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