SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Savannah Mayor Van Johnson has announced the revival of a re-entry program for formerly incarcerated people. He’s assembled a task force that will help ex-cons get jobs and transition back into the community.
Advocates for Restorative Communities in Savannah or the “ARCS” program aims to change policy and hearts.
Charlotte Garnes is a member of the task force. She’s an entrepreneur and the operations manager for the Bail Project. Garnes says she’s not the typical face of incarceration, yet the stigma gravely impacted her life.
“You become so overwhelmed that going back sometimes is the easiest thing to do because so many people are telling you no,” said Garnes, “and when you’re incarcerated it’s an oppressive system.”
According to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, Georgia has the fourth largest inmate population in the United States. It is estimated that roughly half a million Georgians are behind bars or under the supervision of the criminal justice system.
“Savannah ranks second to Atlanta of people coming out of incarcerations,” said Garnes.
Johnson says recently released inmates have paid their debts and shouldn’t feel like a burden on the community. He says they deserve a second chance at life and stability.
“We’ve discussed it and we want to have what we call essentially, welcome home parties,” said Johnson.
The mayor assembled a task force that he calls his “re-entry superheroes.” He says their varying backgrounds from criminal justice to education and even religion will help connect ex-cons to mental health resources, employment and housing opportunities.
“Justice impacted people and their family need us, the Savannah community, to support them by connecting them to resources and assisting them in their re-integration efforts,” said Dr. Maxine Bryant, a criminal justice professor and member of the task force. “When justice impacted people win, Savannah, we win.”
Studies show community support and employment make a former inmate less likely to re-offend. Garnes says she’s living proof of that.
“The self-esteem and the benefits of having someone who’s pushing you and encouraging you and supporting you and that’s one person,” said Garnes. “Imagine if a whole society is pushing promoting and supporting me, I can’t stop.”
The task force meets weekly and plans to apply for grants to fund their initiatives.