As prison costs soar, new trend and local non-profit save money

Suzanne Seabold
Suzanne Seabold
Prodigal Ministries
Prodigal Ministries
Kentucky State Reformatory
Kentucky State Reformatory

By Carrie Weil - bio | email
Posted by Charles Gazaway - email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Kentucky lawmakers are examining every penny in the Commonwealth's budget as the state faces more than a $1 billion shortfall in the next two years. And while funds for education and healthcare are at risk, it might surprise you that on average $19,000 is spent yearly to house each inmate in the state. With over 21,000 people incarcerated, that adds up to a lot of money. The figure is made worse by the fact the state's recidivism rate (the number of people who return to prison once released) stands at 35%. But change is underway.

For years the Kentucky Department of Corrections began work with inmates 120 days prior to their release.

"We try to get them reconnected with family, friends, whoever, so they can go out and have a place to live and they can have some kind of income until they can get on their feet," said Cheryl Million of the Department of Corrections.

But that was proving not enough.

"It's just time that we looked at this differently because what we've done in the past hasn't necessarily been successful," Million said.

Now, thanks to grant money, the prison release protocol starts on the first day the inmate is incarcerated.

"We're going to have a case management plan for every offender and we're going to work through that plan from the time they become incarcerated to after their release," said Million.

The idea is to target specific programs, therapy and counseling each inmate needs while serving time, in order to be successful in society once released. If it works, it will save the state millions of dollars.

It's the kind of success Prodigal Ministries already knows. The non-profit group has three houses across Oldham and Jefferson counties. Both men and women who have just released from prison call them home. They do so by choice as a way to transition back into the "real world."

Prodigal Ministries survives mostly on individual donations and a few grants. Since 2002, they have served 283 people with only 12% returning to prison. That's less than half the state's rate which equals less taxpayer money used to lock up criminals. Each resident must live by rules. There is a curfew, Bible study, mandatory meetings, drug testing and counseling for drug addiction and job placement. Suzanne Seabold, the group's executive director, says it's all part of what makes Prodigal Ministries work - a sense of structure these ex-offenders desperately need.

"They just don't know how to cope," says Seabold. "In prison they are told what to do, they have very few decisions to make. When you come out here you get to decide the choices that you make. Going to the grocery is a big deal."

Those big deals often lead the former inmates to feel overwhelmed and revert back to their old ways. Seabold realizes a lot of people want to turn a blind eye to efforts like Prodigal Ministries, but stresses the work must continue and grow.

"The reality is people get out of prison everyday and they're going to continue to come out of prison every day. There's very few people that stay in prison their entire life. You want them to be ready when they come out, if not, they'll victimize again," says Seabold.

If you're interested in finding out more about Prodigal Ministries, click on the highlighted link.

The group is hosting a "Christmas In September" fundraiser. It's a Runway Fashion Show and Boutique at The Olmsted on September 30, 2010. More information can be found on the group's web site.

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