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Angola-based prison reentry program gets thumbs-up from national advocacy group

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The U.S. Justice Action Network is holding up a prisoner reentry program at Louisiana State Penitentiary as a model for the rest of the country to follow. The Washington D.C.-based advocacy group pushes for changes in the criminal justice system.

Some of its members toured Angola’s reentry program Friday. The program that started six years ago pairs lower-level offenders with select, mentor-like inmates serving life sentences at Angola, according to U.S. Justice Action Network deputy director Jenna Moll.

“When I first heard about it, I was pretty dubious. There’s no basis for this in other states. They really charted their own path here,” Moll said. “They’ve paired some lower-level offenders who have a sentence of no more than 10 years with offenders serving life sentences at Angola.”

Moll says about 100 inmates are in the reentry program that provides a combination of social and moral rehabilitation with skills growth in a certified trade, like engine repair, masonry and culinary arts.

She says the lower-level offenders spend at least two years at Angola working shoulder to shoulder with the inmates. After that, they have a five-year parole. She says the carefully chosen Angola inmates help the lower-level offenders reboot their life -- something they can’t do.

“They are very well aware they don’t have a chance to get out. They’re going to be there for the rest of their lives. They know their one way to impact the world and give back is to help these lower-level offenders get better,” Moll said.

Moll says early results from the first cohort show great promise for the program. She’s urging other prisons to visit Angola and see the program in action. She says the reentry program was created through a patchwork of private donations and established resources. It doesn’t require a budget line.

The first cohort, currently in the parole stage, shows a dramatically lower recidivism rate than what is the norm from released prisoners, Moll said.

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