Hinds County could see fewer repeat offenders because of the Mississippi Department of Corrections' (MDOC) Hinds County Probation and Parole Thinking for a Change (T4C) program.
T4C is designed to help ex-offenders move into the workforce with new attitudes and communication skills.
The first Hinds County graduation was held Monday at the Mississippi Agricultural & Forestry Museum. MDOC officials are in the process of selecting the next group of participants.
Deputy Commissioner of Community Corrections Jerry Williams said the T4C program is in place to help reduce MDOC's recidivism rate even lower than the current 27.65% over three years, which is lower than the national average of 52 % over a three-year period. "The program is designed to give ex-offenders the necessary skills to help them refrain from committing new crimes," said Williams.
According to George Nelson, program coordinator for Hinds County, T4C is a 25-week program that usually has eight to 12 students and can be individualized by each county. "It is comprised of lessons dealing with social skills, problem solving and cognitive therapy activities that group members learn to apply to their daily life situations. In addition, we (Hinds County) modified our program to also address what we call targets (problematic areas) for inner-city adolescents," said Nelson.
"One thing the program allows us to do is vary from the structured program. We talked about anti-social behaviors, job building skills, education, self-esteem and things that were important to help them (offenders and ex-offender) stay on the right track and change their way of thinking," said Nelson.
The T4C program began at the direction of Commissioner Christopher Epps. All graduates of the Regimented Inmate Discipline (RID) program who are on supervision are recommended to participate in T4C, especially if they have a high risk of reoffending. The recidivism rate for inmates in RID is higher than any other group in MDOC, according to Community Corrections Director Christy Gutherz. The officers working with RID inmates and the program coordinator decide who will participate in T4C. Ex-offenders who did not participate in RID program may also be selected to participate in T4C, if there are special circumstances that risk them reoffending.
"It's cognitive behavior therapy. What it does is try and keep participants from recidivating by giving them positive thoughts and affirmation to do better and think better," said Nelson.
Three of the five ex-offender graduates attended Monday's graduation.
The guest speaker was the Rev. Eddie Spencer, a former inmate and current motivational speaker who is now pastor of Mount Salem United Methodist Church in Terry and Saint Mary's United Methodist Church in Crystal Springs.z
Spencer spoke about his past experiences as an inmate and how he reformed his life. He told the graduates to have a plan, remove excuses, stay away from bad influences, have people to hold them accountable and to change their thinking.
"Great intentions with no plan allow you to go back to what you're used to," Spencer said.
Gutherz said MDOC officials "hope this (graduation) will be the first of many."
MDOC has worked with T4C previously. In February, MDOC and Itawamba Community College-Belden held a T4C graduation ceremony for seven graduates.
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