"When I went to the prison, doors started opening for me," said Steve Boyd, a director for Yokefellowship Prison Ministry and the Volunteer Re-entry Coordinator for the Carbon County Correctional Facility.
After searching for a lifetime for the meaning of life, at the age of 62, Boyd retired to his Lehighton farm from a career as an operations manager at the Automatic Switch Company in New Jersey.
After dabbling for a year in home repair and odd jobs while hoping to find meaning in manual labor, at his church, Crossroads Community Church, Boyd had a religious experience. He was Born Again – and he discovered his calling.
After that experience, Boyd was led to a meeting of the Carbon County Prison Board on Dec. 16, 2009. He proposed a volunteer-based education program at the prison.
"The Prison Board for the Carbon County Correctional Center in Nesquehoning unanimously accepted my presentation for a re-entry program to help reduce resident inmates' chances of becoming repeat offenders," Boyd said.
He became the Volunteer Re-entry Coordinator for the Carbon County Correctional Facility.
The Re-entry Program has two phases: Pre-release and Post Release. Post Release involves offsite volunteer-, involving with teaching night courses, mentoring, and job assistance.
"The prison is presently in Pre-release, which involves bringing in instructional courses in arts, education, crafts, vocational and life skills, Bible study, or therapy," Boyd said. "Such courses help resident inmates prepare for when they are released. Other courses, such as anger management, parenting, finances, relationships, job interviewing, resume writing, Reformers Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous help resident inmates deal with real life situations.
"Lehigh, Northampton, Lancaster, and Monroe counties have found that Re-entry works in reducing recidivism," Boyd noted. In Carbon County, we are now beginning a Re-entry Post Release Program."
He said volunteer teachers are needed to teach weekly, one-hour night courses in education, life skills, job skills, therapy, anger management, parenting, or Bible studies. Some of these courses only involve showing a 45-minute DVD, followed by a discussion.
"We also need people to volunteer as mentors to help coach and encourage ex-offenders, to help them overcome obstacles like unemployment and child issues," he said.
Educational credentials are not necessary – just a little enthusiasm and some knowledge of a subject area. Volunteer mentors will be trained.
"Reducing recidivism is in every taxpayer's interest," Boyd continued. "Maintaining a county prison like that of Carbon County, costs millions in tax money each year. The prison is full and building a new prison costs as much as $60,000 per bed – millions of dollars."
"The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with one of 105 adults behind bars, a total of 2.4 million of the world's 10 million reported prisoners – almost 25 percent – although it has only five percent of the world's population.
"Although the national crime rate has been declining, due to stricter sentences and sentence guidelines, the Bureau of Justice statistics show that State and Federal authorities increased prison populations 628 percent between 1970 and 2005. By the end of 2008, 7.3 million people in the U.S. were either in jail or on parole or probation.
"The Pennsylvania State Prison population has increased 24 percent since 1999 to now more than 52,000. Currently, it is so overcrowded that in the last six months over 2,000 Pennsylvania prisoners were transferred to two other states with Pennsylvania taxpayers paying the tab.
"On average, two out of three released prisoners nationwide will be rearrested, and one out of two will return to prison within three years of release.
"In 2006, states spent an estimated $2 billion on prison construction-three times the amount they were spending fifteen years earlier. At the county level, prison costs are generally the highest budget item. The Re-entry Program is all volunteer and costs nothing to the county taxpayer.
"So, adding on or building new prisons is not the answer," Boyd said. "Reducing the recidivism rate to the prison is the answer. External punitive confinement alone does not work. Resident inmates have to want to change. They also need help upon release to find housing and employment.
"Although the Department of Labor does not keep statistics, it is thought that the unemployment rate for ex-offenders is 40 to 60 percent. One major reason is that on almost all job applications, the question is asked, 'Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Explain.'"
For more information or to volunteer, call Steve Boyd at 570-386-3637.