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Southwest Virginia leaders focus on re-entry efforts for inmates

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ABINGDON, Va. - Statistics we obtained show slightly more than 23 percent of ex-felons in Virginia return to prison. That is the lowest rate in the country, among the 45 states participating in a three-year recidivism metric. We are finding out from state officials it is due to what they call "re-entry" programs, which focus on education and readjustment to life in the community. Members of the southwest Virginia community came together to enhance options for offenders leaving regional jails. "Housing is usually number one. Right behind that, you have employment," Re-entry coordinator Devon Simmons said. Simmons is part of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring's office providing state-wide sessions on making sure resources are available for inmates before leaving cell walls. Simmons said, "To officially address these needs, we first have to address returning citizens' thinking and trying to correct that behavior." The Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Abingdon has always had classes to help inmates prepare to return to life outside. However, a year and a half ago, they began focusing specifically on re-entry into the community. They have a six-month program for inmates preparing to complete a jail term. A counselor is dedicated to a group of about seven to 10 inmates living together, but separated from the general population. "In a year and a half, we've had 20 people complete this program. So far, our success rate is 100 percent," Lt. Tony Mullins is the program coordinator for the regional jail in Abingdon. Abingdon relies heavily on volunteers and community support with no state funding designated for it. Ann Ledgerwood is a pediatric physical therapist. She is also involved with re-entry efforts through the Glade Spring Ministerial Association. She knows first hand of the aftermath of families left fending with parents in jail. "I see grandparents and great grandparents not raising 1, 2, 3,4, but 5 or 6 grandkids by themselves," Ledgerwood. Ledgerwood tells us she and her husband feel a need to help in the community. This effort has been underway for less than a year, but is making progress. She said they soon hope to have a thrift store open in Glade Spring to support drug recovery efforts working along with re-entry.

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