U.S. Mayor Article

Fort Wayne Pilot Program National Model for Helping Released Offenders


March 4, 2002


The 38-year-old Fort Wayne woman was about to be released from the Rockville (IN) Correctional Facility, where she was imprisoned following her July 1999 conviction for felony prostitution, her fourth conviction on the same charge.

Enderle was anxious and fearful about what the free world had in store for her. The first time she was released from prison she was so overwhelmed that she ended up back on the street, selling her body for money. Enderle did not want that to happen again.

"I just wanted a chance," she said. "I never received a chance before. I never was accepted into any programs. I just was sent to jail. I just wanted one chance to prove that I was willing to change."

Enderle's chance came in the mail. She received a letter telling her that she had been accepted into a pilot program called Re-Entry Court, a program initiated by Fort Wayne Mayor Graham Richard, Allen County Superior Judge John F. Surbeck Jr., Allen County Community Corrections Director Sheila Hudson and Terry Donahue of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The program - the first of its kind in the nation and now a national model - was created to combat the alarming number of criminals returning to their home community following their time served. During the next two years, as many as 800 people will return to Fort Wayne after serving time in prison.Two hundred of these returning offenders were locked up for violent crimes, including rape and aggravated assault.

Nationally, nearly 4.6 million people were on probation or parole at the end of 200, an increase of more than 70,000 from the previous year, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice. These numbers are expected to continue to rise.

More than 60 percent of these individuals will return to crime, with some estimations as high as 90 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Research shows that those individuals who return to a life of crime commit an average of 10 crimes before they are caught and convicted.

Fort Wayne's leaders decided it was time to make a change.

"The past practice was not working," Mayor Richard said. "Community corrections officials are bogged down by large caseloads and limited resources."

In Fort Wayne, local officials teamed together with state and federal agencies and the faith-based community to develop the Re-Entry Court Initiative. The court system provides offenders with supervision and counseling once released from prison. The intention is that these returning offenders will reintegrate back into the community and become a vital member of society, Mayor Richard said.

"It was necessary for our community to get together and come up with a program," Richard said. "We wanted to be proactive and involve not only the court system, but the workforce development system, social service agencies and the faith-based community. It took people working together from all of these programs to make this initiative happen. We used existing resources. We didn't need to ask the state or federal government for extra dollars to make the program work."

Currently in the Fort Wayne program, 38 percent of the returning offenders had been convicted of drug charges, 29 percent for crimes against property, 25 percent for crimes against persons and 8 percent for public order crimes.

As of Dec. 17, 55 returning offenders have participated in the Re-Entry Court Initiative. Of those participants, 95 percent are following court instructions. Five percent did not and were sent back to prison.

Officials and participants say the court is working because it not only supervises the returning offender, but it provides them with the resources to make a life for themselves.

"I've finally been given the chance I always dreamed about," Enderle said. "I want to get a degree, and I think I finally can do it."

Along with authorities and social service agencies, the community plays an active role in Re-Entry Court. Citizens are asked to be the "eyes and ears" of the court, and are asked to let officials know if they see a returning offender committing a crime.

Fort Wayne's Re-Entry Court is the first of its kind in the nation. The U.S. Department of Justice sees Fort Wayne's Re-entry Court as a national model because it has proven to be effective since its inception in July 2001, said Jennifer Edwards of the DOJ.

Most impressive to the justice department is that partners have been able to sustain the relationship among the different agencies without using federal funds, said Terry Donahue, the acting administrator for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention for the DOJ.

Federal and state groups have traveled to Fort Wayne to witness the initiative first hand. A focus group consisting of individuals from HUD, the departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services and the DOJ met in October.

In coming months, the DOJ will accept grant applications from communities interested in modeling Fort Wayne's Re-Entry initiative. The DOJ will help fund components of the court for other communities interested in bringing the Re-Entry initiative into their community.

For more information about Re-Entry Court, please contact Kimberly Pupillo, Public Information Officer for the City of Fort Wayne, at 219-427-1120, Allen County Community Corrections Director Sheila Hudson at 219-449-7252 or Allen County Superior Judge John F. Surbeck Jr. at 219-449 7583.

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