Each year, between 500 to 700 ex-offenders are released back into Dane County seeking a new and fresh start to their lives. Upon returning, they are faced with multiple challenges and obstacles such as finding a job and a permanent place to live. To be successful, ongoing health and addiction issues also need to be addressed that were often left untreated during prison time. Even with the best intentions and plans, ex-offenders are at risk of returning to prison if they are unable to get on a positive life track.  In 2003, our county experienced a recidivism rate of 66% for individuals returning to prison within two years of release.

The cycle of recidivism can end by empowering ex-offenders with the right resources so they can successfully reintegrate with their families and our community. United Way and community partners spent months researching best practices, listening to community engagements and studying reintegration programs in other communities to determine the best strategies for Dane County.  We call this model Journey Home, and it is effectively connecting ex-offenders and families with community resources to reduce the return-to-prison rate.

There are four key elements to the Journey Home program: Residency, Employment, Support and Treatment (REST).  When a former prisoner has three of these,
they are likely to successfully reintegrate.

This is accomplished through Resource Specialists who provide more intensive one-on-one assistance with participants, and monthly service fairs that invites participants to a one-point access to REST services that are critical to their successful re-integration.

By mobilizing the community, volunteers, local leaders, businesses, government and nonprofit agencies and other organizations, we will continue to reduce the return to prison rate, and ensure that Dane County remains a safe, educated, and healthy place to live.

The results of investments in research-based practices for reducing the recidivism rate are promising. In 2003, the recidivism rate for Dane County was 66%. With the launch of the Journey Home program; in 2005, the return-to-prison rate drop to 21%.

Journey Home is cost-effective – $500 per person versus $38,000 prison cost for one year. In addition, individuals who participated in Journey Home have a greater return-to-prison success rate than those who do not participate of 7.5%.

United Way of Dane County and community partner are focusing our efforts on Residency, Employment, Support and Treatment or REST. Having three or more of these components in an ex-offender’s life provides a greater chance for not re-offending and returning to prison.

United Way of Dane County and community partner are focusing our efforts on Residency, Employment, Support and Treatment or REST. Having three or more of these components in an ex-offender’s life provides a greater chance for not re-offending
and returning to prison.

(R)ESIDENCY

Everyone needs a place to live, shower and relax; however most ex-offenders struggle to find a place to live. They need employment to pay for a place to live but they can’t find employment without an address to put on the job application. Since 2006, we have been successful at finding housing for 102 individuals by working with apartment associations and landlords to provide support as they work with ex-offenders to place them in housing.

(E)MPLOYMENT

Finding employment is challenging for many people given our current economic climate. It is even more difficult if you are an ex-offender. Most ex-offenders have low skills and often no real work history, which makes positioning them for jobs difficult. Even with these barriers, Journey Home has found employment for 262 ex-offenders since 2006. We have offered training to employers to promote the available public incentives for hiring ex-offenders. Journey Home also provides screening and an employment liaison between the ex-offender and their employer, an extra incentive to the employers because they know all potential employees are being supported.

(S)UPPORT

With the challenges of finding a place to live and a job, Journey Home participants benefit from mentors or support groups to keep them on the right track. They can join a Circle of Support program or Voices Beyond Bars. The Circle of Support program links five to seven volunteers with one ex-offender to help them make positive life choices upon their release. Twenty-four individuals have a Circle of Support group that offers counsel and direction to important life decisions. Voices Beyond Bars is a volunteer opportunity for ex-offenders to mentor and empower other ex-offenders before and after they are released from prison.

(T)REATMENT

We know that about 80% of ex-offenders who are in prison suffer from mental health and/or alcohol and other drugs (AODA). While in prison, they receive the treatment and support that they need. However, upon release, not all have access to the resources to continue with their treatment. Mental health and AODA resources are in short supply – most have waiting lists. The Resource Specialists work closely with the community agencies to identify mental health and AODA resources for ex-offenders. Our goal is to refer ex-offenders to programs with the shortest waiting lists. Since we began this initiative, we have linked 261 ex-offenders to support and/or treatment services. Since 2006 Journey Home has helped over 600 ex-offenders get linked to Residency, Employment, Support and Treatment.

Since 2006 Journey Home has helped over 600 ex-offenders get linked to
Residency, Employment, Support and Treatment.

You Can Make a Difference

  • Attend the monthly service fairs to welcome ex-offenders back to a caring community
  • Recruit or be a part of a “Circle of Support” for a returning prisoner
  • Tutor a prisoner to help obtain a GED
  • Employ an ex-offender
  • Volunteer to work with ex-offenders to build job skills and prepare for employment

To find out more about these and other ways you can help increase the percentage of ex-offenders who are able to reintegrate effectively into our community, contact the United Way Volunteer Center, United Way 2-1-1 or visit United Way’s website at unitedwaydanecounty.org or volunteeryourtime.org.