Indianapolis Colts Help Ex-Offenders
OPINION: I actually think this is a good idea...even if it involves violent criminals. We, as a society have a responsibility to help offenders get back on their feet and learn how to become productive citizens again. I have someone close to me who is a non-violent offender serving time in another state and feels helpless because when he gets out of prison, he knows his options of regaining his life are limited due to the negative stigma of a criminal record.
Kudos to everyone involved with this program! Let's hope it works!
Indianapolis - Melissa Benton has put in her time.
Seven years behind bars and now seven more helping ex-offenders like herself make it on the right side of the law.
"There's still such a stigma attached to being an ex-offender," she told Eyewitness News. "So sometimes, even the training you get doesn't help to get a job."
Benton's employer, The Bonner Center, is one of several local providers teaming up with the city and the Indianapolis Colts to tackle the run on crime and to close the revolving door to prison, through jobs.
"If they have turned their life around, they want to get a fresh start, we've got to be able to help them," said Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy, who is serving as the Honorary Chairman of the city's re-entry program.
Mayor Greg Ballard says it's simply the right thing to do.
"This is a major priority for the city," proclaimed the mayor, who made this issue one of his platforms for election. "With 5,000 people coming out every year and a recidivism rate of 74%, this is a major public safety issue."
Translated, that means 3,700 ex-offenders fail to break the cycle of crime and land back here at the Marion County Jail - or in Indiana prisons.
Staggering numbers the city hopes a Super Bowl coach, with a passion for prison ministry, can help defeat.
Dungy says his successful approach on the field is what he uses for inmates behind bars too.
"You start talking about what went wrong, where you want to go and how you want progress, how you want to move forward, just like we talk to our team after a loss."
Dungy began his prison outreach to young men in 1996. Both he and Melissa Benton say inmates worry about jobs and money.
"Trying to get a job right away when you haven't had time to prove yourself is really difficult and to hear rejection and hear no over and over again is very frustrating," Benton told Eyewitness News.
The city expects to lock up nearly a million dollars in grant funding by September 1 and supports an ordinance giving "preference points" to businesses that hire ex-felons. City County Council member Marilyn Pfeister plans to present the proposed ordinance next month.
Ballard's new Director of Re-entry, Khadija Muhammad, vows to work with the Indiana Department of Correction to track progress.
"We'll be able to trace them from the time they enter the city through employment and hopefully a year or so after that to make certain that while we're working with the provider we'll know exactly what their needs are," Muhammad explained.
For ex-offenders like Melissa, who served time for voluntary manslaughter, the value of a new start is immeasurable.
"I would not be where I am today if it were not for the church community that I had that supported me," Benton said with gratitude.
"We're going to try to recruit the support of everyone to make our city better," said Dungy, who believes it's imperative the faith based community gets involved. Dungy says the benefits are "not only for these ex-offenders, but for all of us. So I'm delighted to be part of this, proud that the Colts are part of this."
The city is thrilled to have the support of Coach Dungy, calling him an inspiration and true role model. They're counting on his championship status to translate off the field too.
On August 4th and 5th, the city will hold it's first ever re-entry job fair at Ivy Tech. Offenders wanting job consideration must attend several workshops days in advance.