New La. facility gives former inmates a second chance

The center helps participants learn practical skills like employment readiness, parenting, substance abuse education and GED preparation


Dan Copp
The Houma Courier, La.

THIBODAUX, La. — In an effort to reduce crime, a new facility recently opened in Thibodaux to provide former inmates the tools necessary to become productive citizens.

The Thibodaux Day Reporting Center held an open house Monday to allow the public to tour the facility, meet the staff members and learn about its evidence-based re-entry programs designed to change criminal behavior.

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections selected GEO Reentry Services to open the center at 1000 Plantation Road on Dec. 5 to provide services for people on probation or parole.

"The objective is to provide services and support to those people on parole in this area to ultimately help them stay out of the criminal justice system," said GEO Reentry Services Vice President John D. Thurston. "It's ultimately about improving public safety."

The center helps participants learn practical skills like employment readiness and job hunting, parenting, anger management, substance abuse education and GED preparation.

Thurston said drug abuse and unemployment are merely symptoms of criminal behavior. The facility gives participants the tools needed to overcome the criminal mindset, he said.

"The top drivers of criminal behavior are anti-social thinking and anti-social peers," Thurston said. "It's not necessarily substance abuse or not having a job. If you were to lose your job tomorrow you wouldn't automatically become a criminal."

Participants remain in the program for up to 90 days and complete three targeted phases, officials said. They must agree to have frequent check-ins, undergo drug and alcohol testing and case management while they receive ongoing help to become productive citizens.

The facility's program manager, Kaylarge Eloi, said the program's mission could be summed up in a quote from poet Henry Longfellow.

"If we take the time to read the secret histories of our enemies we will find each person has enough sorrow and suffering to disarm hostility," Eloi said. "That's what we do here at GEO Services. We do that with a little variation that allows participants to find their own sorrow, suffering or injuries that they feel have been done to them in the past. We allow them to determine if they're the enemy to society or whether the society is an enemy to them that causes them to engage in those behaviors."

Department of Corrections Assistant Secretary Rhett Covington, who toured the facility Monday, said such re-entry programs are crucial to deter crime and enhance public safety.

"Day reporting centers like this one are critical to high-risk offenders who are trying to live functionally," Covington said. "In the past our only option was to revoke their paroles or probations and put them back in prison. By doing that they aren't learning the new skills they need to be productive citizens. This facility offers us a unique and historic opportunity to actually be able to intervene with someone in the community to help them deal with the stressors as they come up in daily life and get them back on track to prevent them from going back to prison."

If former inmates learn the skills necessary to function in society, everyone wins, Covington said.

"It makes them become more productive citizens and prevents them from creating new victims," he said. "These are things that up to now the Department of Corrections hasn't engaged in and we reaped what we sowed. A lot of them went back to prison again just as dysfunctional as when they left. So this is a unique opportunity for Probation and Parole to oversee these folks."

GEO opened its first re-entry center in Louisiana in 2009. In addition to five-day reporting centers in Louisiana, the company also operates three correctional centers.

The Thibodaux facility is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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©2019 The Houma Courier, La.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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