Winter transition ceremony: A new lease on life for Alexandria, La. graduates

College students have been known to complain that their schoolwork is irrelevant to real life.

However, for the nontraditional “students” of the Alexandria Day Reporting Center, it doesn’t get any more real. On Dec. 3, smiling broadly and proudly wearing royal-blue caps and gowns, 11 probationers graduated from the intensive community-supervision program. Family members and local law enforcement were in attendance to celebrate and support. The winter transition ceremony marks an important moment in the probationers’ journey. Their hard work and persistence to date is recognized, and they ceremonially embark on the next phase of their recovery journey.

The goal of the program, run by GEO Reentry Services, is to successfully rehabilitate offenders, preparing them for reintegration as productive members of society. Probationers spend up to 60 days enrolled in the full program and then follow an aftercare plan. Currently the center has 35 participants, but it can enroll up to 50. GEO Reentry monitors participants with frequent check-ins, drug and alcohol testing, and case management.

But successful rehabilitation takes more than effective scrutiny and oversight. While there are overarching patterns underlying the cycle of criminal behavior, each individual’s story and situation is unique. GEO Reentry offers a wide range of rehabilitative services designed to meet each probationer’s specific needs over time. These services include: cognitive-behavioral therapy, employment skills development, community resource referrals, adult basic education and GED preparation, and classes on life skills, parenting, and drug and alcohol management.

Rooted in evidence-based practices, GEO Reentry’s intensive supervision programs are much more than a jail without walls. “Evidence-based” means that GEO’s treatments and practices are empirically proven and derive from social-learning theory. Research shows that supervision programs relying on a combination of evidence-based practices and cognitive-behavioral therapy are 20-30 percent more effective at reducing recidivism.

Graduates of the program exhibit positive changes in attitude and behavior, and are better prepared for independent living.  When compared to incarceration, GEO’s programs lower taxpayer cost, relieve pressure on an overburdened justice system, and enhance public safety. Louisiana, for instance, known for the highest incarceration rate nationwide, has seen a reduction in its prison population from 40,000 in 2012 to 37,000 in August, 2015. GEO runs six reentry programs in the state. Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, says that stronger reentry programming has been a factor in this reduction.

But most important, GEO’s community supervision programs keep men and women where they belong: with family and community.