Courageous Conversations: Life behind bars

Life Beyond Bars
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Going to prison is a life-changing event, but it doesn’t have to mean that a felon’s life is ruined.

It might sound ironic, but life beyond bars begins here, at one of Missouri’s 21 correctional facilities.

The Missouri Department of Corrections has a staff of 11,000, 28,000 prisoners and 62,000 under some kind of community supervision.

According to US News and World report, Missouri has the nation’s eighth-highest incarceration rate, despite being only 18th in total population. This makes what today’s prisoners do behind bars consequential to the rest of us.

And behind Missouri’s correctional efforts is anything but a, “lock ’em up and throw away the key,” mentality.

Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe says for the vast majority of those in state prisons, the key is getting them on the right path.

“95 percent of the people in our institutions are going to be coming back out to our communities,” Precythe said.

That means prisoners must be ready to do something productive, but people don’t commit crimes with the goal of going through prison training programs and the system doesn’t require anyone to improve themselves behind bars.

So Precythe and her colleagues have to work to show inmates the benefits of a productive path.

“One of the challenges for us is tempting the individual in prison to want to pursue one of these paths,” Precythe said.

The department philosophy is that training and betterment should be available to all.

What matters most is how willing a person is to work to improve.

Given his law enforcement background, Gov. Mike Parson has a keen interest in the department of corrections, insisting that other state departments work closely with it to get prisoners ready for eventual release.

The department is ready to work with state government and the hundreds of Missouri companies Precythe says look to hire former inmates.

“A lot of them, we’re starting to focus on getting them a job, so that they have a job before they come out,” Precythe said.

Based on training options in prison, job options are plenty-ranging from computers to welding to diesel mechanics to electrical wiring and more.

“We do interviews with different companies across the State of Missouri on iPads prior to the individual being released,” Precythe said. “So they’re hired, ready to come out, and they have a job that they’re going to begin shortly after release.”

The hope is with a new job comes a new path for former prisoners in a new life beyond bars.

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