New Citizen Program hopes to reduce recidivism rates

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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Hamilton Center’s New Citizen Program began with a conversation between two men, one of whom was behind bars.

The conversation focused on how that man could create a new and better life once he was released; a life that could inspire others to better themselves as well.

How the New Citizen Program began:

Hamilton Center CEO Melvin L. Burks was one of those men, and he says he had one goal in mind for the program.

“It was based upon believing in second chance, giving individuals the responsibility to come back, and live like a new citizen, like everyone else, slate wiped clean,” said Burks.

Through the program, participants complete a one-year probationary period of training in departments throughout Hamilton Center.

The program also includes a weekly meeting with a mentoring community, which program leaders say is a crucial part.

“We just wanna make sure everyone is on the up and up, showing you the respect that you’re supposed to get, and just working with you with some of the problems you may have re-entering the community, some of us may have been gone 10 years, you don’t know what a debit card looks like,” said Tatu Brown, the first participant in the New Citizen Program.

Brown was the man Burks initially spoke to about the program, as he was serving time for drug-related charges.

Brown not only completed the program, but is now the Coordinator of Youth Services at Hamilton Center. He says he believes others are likely to follow his path, if given the chance to.

“One of the main things with the program is humility”:

“When individuals get a second chance, they’ll prove to you how much they want to be there, they will prove to you how much they appreciate you, or appreciate this business or appreciate the opportunity, based on where they came from,” said Brown.

Separating participants from their preview habits and the environment that led them to crime in the first place is another crucial part of the program.

“Many times, those that are coming out of incarceration are going back to the same living environment, the same neighborhood, the same culture that they were in before they got incarcerated, so if they can have a new pathway, a new experience, a new opportunity, that will help decrease that risk,” said Emily Owens, Executive Director of Clinical Services at Hamilton Center.

According to the Indiana Department of Correction’s latest data on recidivism, 33.8% of adults in prison return to incarceration within three years of release.

The IDOC also reports the recidivism rate per county, which shows that around one-third of the population in Vigo County ends up returning to prison.

And Burks says the program is not only beneficial for participants, but also the wider population.

“We should understand that for our community, that forgiveness pathway will create a stronger community,” said Burks.

“We forget the art of forgiveness”:

To be accepted into the New Citizen Program, there is an application and interview process. One male and one female are chosen each year for the program, and applications can be sent while a person is still incarcerated.

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