With pamphlets and information booklets bundled in their arms, some 63 inmates at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison walked back to their cells Friday with new opportunities to think about for after they leave jail.
Partnering with the Capital Area ReEntry Coalition, the jail invited 18 employers and various service providers to speak at a job fair for soon-to-be-released prisoners. The inmates learned about job openings, skills training, substance abuse treatment, housing and educational opportunities for once they rejoin society.
“That’s what you need when you’ve been down so long,” said 38-year-old Frede Washington, who said she will be released next month. “You don’t have nothing; you don’t know where you’re going. They help you out.”
The job fair was designed in large part to reduce recidivism, said Capital Area ReEntry Coalition Program Director Antoinette Brown. Eighteen percent of inmates in local facilities returned to jail within a year of being released, according to Louisiana Department of Corrections statistics from 2014.
East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s officials said it’s too soon to tell whether the job fair, now in its second year, has reduced recidivism. But Brown estimated her organization has seen a recidivism rate of about 10 percent among those inmates who participate in its programs.
During a visit while female inmates were milling about the various information tables, the mood was light as many expressed excitement and wanted their pictures taken Friday.
Shawntell Eppinett, 33, said she hadn’t realized “we can go back to school, even though we’ve been to prison.”
And Tarsheetka Shavers, 36, said she now wants to be a crane operator after speaking with one of the employers at the fair, Turner Industries.
“I’m trying to get out to start a whole new life,” she said.
James Windom, executive director of the Capital Area ReEntry Coalition, said the organization has assisted about 1,000 inmates since it was founded in 2011.
“No returning citizen should ever think they don’t have an opportunity even though they have a blemish on their record,” he said.
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.