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Sun Gazette: Governor's Efforts on Prison Reform Win Praise at Local Level Print

BY Scott McCaffrey, Staff Writer

Created:  Friday, April 22, 2011 6:52AM


The McDonnell administration's efforts to provide more services to convicts set to be released from jail and prison has won accolades from the local organization that works to help them transition back into society.

"There are major changes that are happening in our state, changes that are going to be very productive," said Gail Arnall, executive director of Offender Aid and Restoration (OAR), at a recent meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Arlington.

Arnall praised the appointment of Harold Clarke to head Virginia's Department of Corrections, suggesting that Clarke's previous efforts in Washington state and Massachusetts show he's serious about reducing recidivism through effective re-entry programs.

"It can be done," said Arnall, who said Clarke's appointment was "a good thing" for the commonwealth.

As part of a policy change, Virginia corrections officials are working to move inmates, in their year prior to release, to correctional facilities close to where they will live after release, and provide a structured program that includes working with groups like OAR to help them transition back into the community.

Those changes have won praise from Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), who sits on the House Courts of Justice and Health, Welfare and Institutions committees.

"Fiscally, it's a smart thing to do, as well as socially," said Hope, who had (rare) praise for Gov. McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on the issue.

"He gets it," Hope said of McDonnell. "The attorney general gets it, too."

About 10,000 people pass through the Arlington County Detention Facility each year, and upwards of 700 are confined there at any one time, Arnall said. Nationally, 2.4 million Americans currently are incarcerated, and 95 percent of them ultimately will be released back into the community.

Two-thirds of those released eventually will find themselves back behind bars, either due to committing other crimes or to probation/parole violations, Arnall said.

She said the biggest challenges to released inmates continue to be finding a home and getting a job. OAR provides both direct services and education/training programs to residents of Arlington, Alexandria and Falls Church, as well as the District of Columbia, to help with the transition.

The organization will hold its third annual "Second Chance Fund-Raising Breakfast" on May 12 at 8 a.m. at the Sheraton National Hotel, and offers tours of its Arlington facility on a regular basis. For information, call (703) 228-7030 or see the Web site at www.oaronline.org.