By Dianne Frazee-Walker
The Yavapai Reentry Project, established in 2011, fulfills a critical need within the state prison system and the Prescott, Arizona area. The main objective of the program is to empower newly released inmates and create a safe environment for the communities they re-enter. The goal of human service non-profit organizations, government agencies, and inspired community members is to collaborate in an effort to develop strategies that successfully integrate released prisoners back into society and in effect lower the recidivism rate.
AmeriCorps, Vista, and Community Counts are umbrella organizations that support Yavapai Reentry Project. Yavapai County Community foundation makes the project financially possible. Funding is donated through individuals, families, memorial gifts, trusts and businesses.
One of the programs the Yavapai Reentry Program offers to recently exiting inmates is Community Coaching. The program is facilitated by trained volunteer community members interested in helping released inmates adjust to a new life outside of prison. Participants are voluntary and screened for eligibility.
The time limit for participation in the program is six months after release, but shorter release time is recommended. The reason for recent release preference is the chance of falling back into a negative environment and the poor choices that impacted criminal and addictive behavior is lower when addressed early. Released inmates must have a residence to qualify for the program.
Community members are trained to empower ex-inmates as they make a smooth transition back into society. Coaches are matched with same-gender, newly-released inmates and commit to contact with their assigned inmate at least twice a month for one year.
A volunteer community coach’s job is to remove personal and environmental obstacles that prevent participants from positively adjusting to reentry. The most significant challenges released inmates face are housing, employment, and reintegrating back into their family and social environment.
Gaining the participant’s trust is an essential element of forming a productive relationship. Active listening is a vital communication skill coaches need to foster trust between themselves and their participants. It is crucial for community coaches to emphasize their participant’s strengths and celebrate their successes, no matter how small.
Community coaches are considered a model and mentor for their participants on how to relate to the “real world.” Coaches advocate for their participants by helping them to effectively solve problems and providing appropriate resources for their needs.
A Community Coach supports the participant to change their behavior without enabling. The objective is to guide participants to make positive changes by raising awareness of problems, the harm caused by their behavior, and recognizing negatives of target behavior. The goal is for participants to gain confidence and self-sufficiency in the art and science of Living in the World.
Once the participant and his or her coach has achieved a sense of accomplishment for behavior change and problem-solving, it is the coach’s role to develop a maintenance plan that supports the participant’s new behaviors and change.
Effective maintenance is measured by the participant applying new behavior change strategies for at least six months, continuing to develop self-sufficiency around behavior change and ongoing improvements to changed behavior.
Characteristics of participants that are in the maintenance stage are evident when they clearly demonstrate and sustain changed behavior, substantial attention is focused on avoiding relapses, participant is uncomfortable with past behavior temptations, and criminogenic thoughts or urges to use drugs are less frequent.
The most significant benefit of Yavapai Reentry Project is program participation has positive residual effects on both Community Coaches and participants. Participants gain knowledge from their coaches and coaches learn from the participants.