Successful Second Chances

As correctional facility inmates approach their release, it can be difficult to know what awaits them on the outside. This transition can be even harder for inmates who have been incarcerated for long periods of time. Altise Street, United Way’s Regional Outreach Specialist for 211 Virginia, is one of six individuals in the state that makes the process a little easier by talking to inmates in the months before their release to provide guidance, support and information.

Altise Street
211 Regional Outreach Specialist
United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg

Officially, Altise Street spends her time managing 211 out of United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg’s headquarters in Richmond. In reality, however, she spends just as much time on the road – speaking at information sessions, community resources fair and other meetings.

Altise sees her work with Virginia’s Statewide Reentry Resource Fairs as one of the most rewarding parts of her job.

“These meetings give me the chance to help people prepare for a successful transition during a really important period,” said Altise.

“I love being able to equip folks with the information they need to make positive choices and navigate the world once they are released.”

Altise visits about 10 correctional facilities across Virginia per year, meeting with anywhere from 20 to 50 inmates at a time. Most of the people she meets with will be released from the facility within three to six months.

How does Altise connect with inmates in prison?

Most prison systems have an Offender Resource Specialist on staff, who is responsible for coordinating educational opportunities for inmates approaching their release date. That’s where Altise comes in.

During each meeting, Altise shares information about a range of topics that individuals will need to understand upon their release. Her conversations cover everything from education to employment to routine daily living – things that most people may take for granted, but are imperative for day-to-day success in life.

It is not uncommon for Altise to see individuals that have been incarcerated for many years and find themselves unable to do things that many of us take for granted – use a cell phone, check email etc. This can make their transition significantly harder because these skills are used to find jobs, apartments and many other essentials.

“It is easy to overlook how difficult it can be to do basic things like find a place to live, secure employment and get food – particularly for someone with a criminal record who is starting over in many ways,” said Altise.

“My goal is to help people understand how to cover these basic needs and take steps in the right direction to provide for themselves and their families.”

She also provides inmates with materials to ease the coming transition. Altise’s Consumer Information Form, for example, ensures individuals get the resources and information the need before their release.

What topics does Altise cover?

Many individuals find themselves seeking a GED, Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree. Altise talks about each of these items and helps people understand the steps required to reach these milestones.

Certifications are another way to further education. Individuals can get certifications while incarcerated or after their release, both of which are great options and will help when looking for employment.

In Virginia, approximately 13,000 individuals are released from the prison system each year. That is 13,000 people who are re-entering the labor market with prior criminal convictions. Altise helps prepare individuals for job interviews and helps them understand how background checks will affect their employment search.

She also explains the Federal Bonding Program, an employer job-hire incentive that provides free insurance to employers and enables the delivery of bonding services as a unique job placement tool to assist persons with prior criminal convictions. The Virginia Department of Corrections considers the bonding program to have a 99% success rate.

Whether scheduled for release in three to six months or serving a longer sentence, Altise provides information about how incarcerated individuals can help their family members.

For individuals that will be released soon, she talks about programs to take care of family members, whether that be children or aging parents.

For inmates serving a longer sentence, she passes along information about holiday assistance resources and other things to help inmates stay connected to their families and provide assistance where they can.

Many inmates will be eligible to receive food stamps after their release, but not all of them. Due to Virginia regulations, individuals with drug convictions are unable to receive food stamps, making it difficult to meet basic needs if they are not able to find a job immediately. Altise points people to places where they can get the food and assistance they need after their release.

Volunteering and giving back is important for all members of the community; however, it is especially important for those transitioning back to a normal routine. Altise connects individuals with volunteer opportunities that can help build connections and help with their transition.

Altise talks about the importance of financial literacy and what individuals can do to ensure their finances are in order. Individuals are able to check their credit score and take care of any issues before getting released so that they can make purchases and investments down the road.

What is the impact of this program?

The Statewide Reentry Resource Fairs provide inmates with crucial information needed to succeed after being released. As a result, Virginia has the lowest recidivism rate in the country at 22.4%. This means individuals are less likely to be re-arrested, re-convicted and re-incarcerated in Virginia due to the success and thoroughness of Virginia’s Statewide Reentry Program and these events.

United Way knows that it is imperative that individuals have a safe home with healthy food in order to work toward a higher degree of prosperity. It’s a key component on our Steps to Success. This program helps people find safe housing, employment, healthcare and food – all important prerequisites for future success. If an individual knows how to secure these basic needs after their release, they are more likely to succeed in furthering their education or career, which will then give them the financial capability to provide for their family and continue on a successful path in life.

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