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Life After Prison a Challenge in KY Communities

The Kentucky State Penitentiary complex in Eddyville, Ky., holds more than 850 people and has been in operation since the 1880s. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Kentucky State Penitentiary complex in Eddyville, Ky., holds more than 850 people and has been in operation since the 1880s. (Wikimedia Commons)
March 14, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Researchers are following 230 Kentuckians who either are incarcerated or have recently been released, as part of a national program designed to help people transition back into society after serving their time.

By working with local corrections departments and community-based providers, the Safe Streets and Second Chances Initiative focuses on a holistic approach to re-entry by encouraging healthy coping strategies and positive relationships, and helping people find meaningful work.

Kentucky is one of four states participating in the program, and Carrie Pettus-Davis, an associate professor at Florida State University, is leading the project.

"Communities really haven't yet stepped up to take ownership of welcoming people back home, and making sure that there's the infrastructure in place to make people successful," she states.

Pettus-Davis says many communities still expect corrections departments to solve re-entry and rehabilitation issues, although these institutions are not equipped to do so.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, more than 100,000 Kentuckians are behind bars or in the criminal justice system.

Pettus-Davis says the study ends in 2020.

For one year, researchers have followed and interviewed participants to better understand the psychological toll of re-entering society.

For many of those formerly incarcerated, not being able to get a driver's license, losing family connections, finding housing and employment, and dealing with unaddressed trauma make daily life a challenge.

Pettus-Davis says a silver lining may be that the country has been inching toward a cultural shift in thinking about the cost of incarceration.

"Starting in about 2010, our country started losing moral will, political will and fiscal will for highly punitive, hyper-incarceration practices," she points out.

As the state explores new ways to help people adjust to life after prison, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky's 5th district, wants $500 million in federal funding to build a new 700-acre prison in Letcher County.

The Trump administration reportedly does not support funding the bill.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY