When Russell Turner completed his second stint in a Colorado prison, after nine and a half years served of a 20-year sentence, he was not expecting any help when he got outside. He said he has never received any before.
Mr. Turner has spent nearly 25 years in and out of jail or prison, starting with stints in juvenile detention as a minor. He says that he was repeatedly abused while incarcerated, targeted by police after his release and denied support, like housing assistance and addiction counseling, when he tried to get it. The cycle of recidivism that he experienced, including bouts of homelessness and drug abuse, is common in the United States.
“I’ve been through the system in Colorado, and I’ve just never gotten a single day of help,” Mr. Turner said. “I’ve never had a handout here. I’ve always tried to [stay out of prison] on my own. And I’ve seen that it’s almost impossible.”
But upon his release last May, Mr. Turner did find help at a low-rise, brown building called the Murphy Center for Hope in Fort Collins. The Murphy Center, a project of the Homeward Alliance, provided all the support that Mr. Turner had not received after previous prison releases: training for a job in manufacturing, counseling to locate appropriate transitional housing and personal attention from a dedicated case manager.
The pay and benefits offered by his new job are above anything he could have hoped for, he said. This time he believes he can stay out of prison.
Homeward Alliance’s re-entry program at the Murphy Center has grown enormously in recent years, thanks to a statewide initiative that also expanded programs at 17 other anti-recidivism efforts around Colorado. The Work and Gain Education & Employment Skills program (Wagees) began as a $500,000 experiment in 2014. Since then, it has become a staple of re-entry services in Colorado. With bipartisan support its 2020 budget expanded to $9 million. Prison reform advocates, including the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the Urban Institute, have praised the program for having “dramatically changed the field of re-entry in Colorado.”
“WAGEES is a leading example of a state department of corrections directly investing in and partnering with community providers, many of which are led by people with firsthand experience in the justice system,” according to a report from the Urban Institute.