Pubdate: Fri, 19 Jul 2002
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)
Copyright: 2002 Chattanooga Publishing Co.
Author: Lindsay Riddell, Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Rapists, murderers and other violent offenders jailed in Tennessee could be 
eligible for a new program that includes treatment, counseling and 
education aimed at helping them rejoin a community.

"Ninety-seven percent of the inmates are released into the community," said 
Rae Ann Coughlin, director of prerelease programs for the Tennessee 
Department of Correction. "If they're not released with intense programs 
and enhanced parole supervision, they are a threat to public safety."

The Tennessee Bridges program will receive more than $1 million of a $2 
million U.S. Department of Justice grant to the state. The grant is a part 
of the Serious and Violent Offender Re-entry Initiative, under which 49 
states received some funding.

"By educating and treating offenders, we are not only helping them improve 
their lives, we are reducing the chance they will return to crime and drug 
abuse," Attorney General John Ashcroft said this week.

Also under the grant, the Tennessee Department of Children's Services will 
receive $936,000 toward a similar program for juveniles with a target 
population in Shelby County, Ms. Coughlin said.

She said state budget cuts over the years had sliced nearly all of the 
money for inmate programs.

The Tennessee Bridges program aims to help state prisoners with life skills 
to keep them from committing more offenses, Ms. Coughlin said.

"Chances are, if a parole board had met with them, they would have seen 
them as high risk and not granted parole," she said. "Then the inmate would 
have expired their sentence with no supervision whatsoever."

The three-year Tennessee Bridges program has two parts. The initial phase 
begins while an inmate is in a correctional facility, and includes 
substance abuse treatment and counseling, if needed, and educational and 
vocational skills training.

Phase two of the program reintroduces the offender back into the community 
with "enhanced supervision," Ms. Coughlin said. Offenders will go to a 
halfway house or support community and eventually should become employed in 
the program's final year, she said.

To be eligible for the program, offenders must be under age 35, be willing 
to parole to Shelby, Knox or Davidson counties, and must have served at 
least 12 consecutive months. Only 300 inmates will take part in the program 
in the first three years, Ms. Coughlin said.

Inmates will begin qualifying for the program as early as September, she said.
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