New facility helps prisoners reintegrate into society

30K prisoners return to Fla.'s communities each year

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Every year, tens of thousands of inmates are released back into mainstream society. Now, there's a new facility in north Florida that will help those inmates adjust to life in their community.

Behind the razor wire at the Gadsden Re-Entry Center, inmates will be taught crucial life lessons to help them assimilate from prison back to communities around Florida.

"The majority of those who are going to be here are going to be here to get the programming they need to help them when they get out," said Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews.

The 432-bed facility is the first in the state. The goal is to reduce repeat offenders. Over the last five years, recidivism has dropped from 33 to 27 percent. Warden Walt Summers says the state has a unique opportunity.

"It is an outstanding opportunity to teach theses guys, to give these guys a skill when they come through so they'll be productive citizens when they get out" Summers said.

At least 87 percent of prisoners will eventually be released. Which means 30,000 per year will return to Florida's communities.

The facility was ready to open last year, but money was tight. Two other re-entry prisons are now ready and waiting for funding. Representative Dennis Baxley says the new facility is a part of change on helping inmates and society.

"Change comes at a tipping point, and the opening of this center, I think, is an indication that we're at a tipping point, that this will truly be a priority," Baxley said.

The re-entry program is intended to help inmates with three years or less on their sentence.

"When they get out, we've done everything we can to maximize their opportunity for successful re-integration back to society," Crews said.

The Gadsden Re-Entry facility will open Jan. 1. The facility is the first of its kind to be placed on a college campus anywhere in the country.

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