Support for justice-involved residents, non-custodial parents, youth and young adults from foster care.
NORFOLK, VA – Eleven years ago, Norfolk became a pilot site for a new statewide partnership between the Virginia Departments of Social Services and Corrections intended to reduce recidivism by providing support, service, and a roadmap to success for people returning to their communities following justice system involvement.
Madonna Flores, the Department of Human Services supervisor who oversees Norfolk’s Prisoner Re-entry Norfolk’s Prisoner Re-Entry T.E.A.M., said the effort launched with existing staff and resources and a clear mission.
“Staff would go with probation officers to the prisons,” Flores said. “And they would get to know the people ahead of time to improve the transition home.”
Now, re-entry programming is mandated statewide. Preparation to return home begins the moment someone arrives in prison. And this shift in philosophy -- from punishment to preparation -- has paid off: In February, the state Department of Corrections announced that Virginia’s recidivism rate of about 23 percent was the lowest in the United States for the fourth year in a row. Recidivism measures the number of people who return to prison after release.
The Re-Entry T.E.A.M. provides services ranging from employment support including education and training, resume and interview skills, and assistance to obtain necessary documents such as birth certificates, Social Security cards and driver’s licenses. Team members also provide something less tangible: encouragement and kindness.
In October, Norfolk will expand these services to support even more people. Flores and her team will continue to support anyone with a criminal history, from those just returning home from incarceration to people whose justice involvement is in the more distant past. The team will also serve adults with child support cases who are non-custodial parents, as well as youth and young adults who are transitioning out of foster care.
“We will be here if you need help,” Flores said.
To underscore the new mission and services for this group, its name will change. The current acronym, T.E.A.M., stands for Transition forward; Engage more; Achieve independence; Move beyond to represent the unit’s goals for its clients, as well as an inviting, outstretched hand: join our team.
The group will add CARES -- Career and Readiness Employment Services to become the CARES T.E.A.M. And because the team is housed within the Department of Human Services, Flores and her staff can connect clients with a full network of supports.
“We need to refer to our unit by what we do, not who we serve,” Flores said. “That’s the main reason people are going to seek you out. They want employment and training.”
Thomas Hurtt and Keri Ingram both sought services from the re-entry unit following criminal convictions. Within a year of his return home, Hurtt had honed his interview and decision-making skills and obtained his commercial driver’s license through classes at Tidewater Community College. The license allowed him to land a job with good wages, benefits, and a retirement plan – important for him at age 54.
““ ‘A year and one day ago I came home from prison with two pairs of undergarments and two pairs of socks and the clothes on my back,’ ” Hurtt told his case manager. “ ‘ And look at me now.’ “
Ingram enrolled in classes to obtain her certificates in information technology and computer support services.
“They gave us good verbiage. I knew my resume needed some love, but I didn’t know how much it needed until they revamped mine,” she said. “They teach you to be mentally sound. To recognize your surroundings. How others will perceive you. … They brought back confidence. That’s huge.”
The CARES T.E.A.M.’s efforts make for better residents and employees. But they also make for stronger, safer communities.
“It’s never to excuse the crime. It’s ‘not another victim,’ ” Flores said. “If we want employers to give them a chance then we have to give them a chance … This strengthens our families. When people feel a part of something, they are less likely to tear it up. They want to build.”
For more information about the CARES T.E.A.M., email Madonna Flores or call 757-664-7799.