Nearly one third of all Mississippians who have been released from prison will at some point go back to jail. But one program is working to reduce that rate of recidivism in young people to keep them from committing another crime.
29 parolees graduated from the Mississippi Department of Correction's Thinking for Change program in Jackson, yesterday. The 16-week educational course is dedicated to helping young people convicted of a non-violent crime reevaluate their life choices and point them in a new direction. 22-year-old Kendra Knotts says the class helped her understand that she doesn't have to get in trouble again.
"I've made a change," says Knotts. "I wouldn't ever go back that route. I've never been in that system. That program Think for a Change overall it has changed a lot of people that's in there. As far as me, I wouldn't go that way. I don't see myself going that way. It's not for me."
The class -- which just completed its third session -- covers everything from substance abuse and relapse prevention to job skills like resume building, professional development and educational needs. Shedrick Rodgers runs the program for the Hinds County Probation and Parole Office.
"A lot of times guys get in trouble not because they're bad people, it's because they're products of what they've been involved with for their entire life," Rodgers says. "The program today, was designed to change the way they see things. Change the way they do things. It's more of a cognitive type thing where we're wanting them to dig deep into their minds and see the mistakes that they've made. So they can change them when those incidents arrive again."
Out of the 29 graduates, one was a white male, two were female and the other 26 were African American males. Larry Perry runs New Way Mississippi, a re-entry and transitional service for ex-offenders. He worries that the state's recidivism rate will hold steady until some major, underlying issues are addressed.
"When we look at the recidivism rate we've got to look at the factors, and one of the biggest barriers I see every day is employment opportunities," says Perry. "I think sometimes it's also dealing with being able to reconnect families whether it's biological families or whether it's foster families from churches. It's not that these men don't want to change, but often times we as a society don't give them the opportunity."
According to research conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Mississippi has the second highest incarceration rate in the nation.