New re-entry center offers opportunities

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Times Correspondent

At the Gadsden Re-Entry Center, prisoners awaiting reintroduction to society will learn crucial skills in vocational labs and classrooms constructed of concrete and surrounded by razor wire-lined fences — appropriately symbolic for an inmate’s transition from prison life back into society.

On Tuesday, Dec. 3, the Florida Department of Corrections hosted an open house, showcasing the state-of-the-art facility.

“It is a great day, not only for the Department of Corrections, but an equally great day for this community,” said FDOC Secretary Michael Crews. “In addition to the jobs that are being brought in, it’s important for this community to make sure we are doing everything we can to maximize an opportunity for a prisoner’s successful reintegration into society. This re-entry center is the next piece of the puzzle.”

The re-entry center is spread across about 47 acres, located directly behind the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy, giving the center the distinction of being the only correctional institution in the nation located on a college campus. The center will house male prisoners who are within 36 months of release, all coming from North Florida correctional institutions.

“What we’ve done in the past in corrections hasn’t always worked, but the folks in re-entry have been making a difference,” said Gadsden Re-Entry Center Warden Walt Summers. “In the past five years, our recidivism rates have dropped from 33 percent to 27.6 percent. That’s significant because a 1 percent reduction in recidivism gives us a savings of over $19 million over a five-year period. When we open the Gadsden Re-Entry Center, we fully expect those numbers to continue to decrease.”

Academic programs the center will offer include: English as a secondary language, low level literacy programs, adult basic education and GED preparation and testing.

Vocational programs offered include: industrial machine maintenance and repair, masonry, culinary arts and carpentry.

The center will also offer counseling programs to help instill inmates with the necessary life skills crucial to living a healthy and productive lifestyle once reintroduced to society. These programs include victim awareness, anger management, money management, parenting skills and more.

“Having a dedicated facility that is going to target the needs of inmates for a substantial period of time is going to be a difference-maker,” said Crews. “My hope is that not only will this facility be a flagship for this state, but also for the entire country.”

The Gadsden Re-Entry Center will officially open on Jan. 1. Two other re-entry centers are on the books and waiting for funding.