Coalition helps ex-prisoners succeed

Coalitions built to help ex-prisoners succeed
By Christian News Northwest
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PORTLAND — Because of a three-day conference sponsored here last month by a nationwide ministry, more people will work together to help more of Oregon’s ex-prisoners live productively outside prison walls.

Sponsored by Prison Fellowship, the Oct. 24-27 conference at Portland’s Doubletree Hotel brought together a group of unlikely partners — faith leaders, state government officials and former felons — for the kickoff of Out4Life Oregon.  Already launched in 11 other states, Out4 Life aims to stem the state’s prisoner re-entry challenge, increasing Oregon’s public safety, saving taxpayer dollars and ultimately rebuilding broken lives.

Studies show that more than 89,000 men and women are under correctional supervision in Oregon, costing taxpayers more than $763 million annually. An estimated 95 percent of offenders will eventually be released back into the state’s neighborhoods, and 30 percent will be re-arrested within three years for a new crime or for violating the terms of their release.

According to Prison Fellowship, this means public safety is compromised and taxpayers are hit hard to foot the bill — unless Oregon’s faith community and government leaders intervene. The goal of Out4Life is to assist in building or expanding local coalitions in areas of the state — where the vast majority of inmates return — to help released prisoners find steady jobs, adequate housing, substance-abuse treatment, needed social services and mentors to keep them from returning to prison.

At press time for Christian News Northwest, Mark Hubbell, Northwest regional director for Prison Fellowship, said up to 200 people representing a wide range of churches and agencies were expected at the conference. He said the event had been in the planning for about four months.
Out4Life brings together resources far beyond what Prison Fellowship — the world’s largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families — can offer, or what churches alone can provide, said Hubbell.

“The idea behind Out4Life is we don’t need to reinvent the wheel on everything … There are all sorts of groups and agencies that have done this or that with excellence, but haven’t been well coordinated with what the church is doing,” he said.

For example, he said, a secular agency such as Goodwill Industries does a very good job meeting some needs such as providing job counseling.

Out4Life brings together not only the faith community, but also government groups, private agencies and business groups to see how they can better coordinate their efforts and avoid duplication.
But it is done in a way that doesn’t diminish the Christ-centered focus of participating churches or ministries such as Prison Fellowship, Hubbell emphasized.

“The idea of this is not to secularize what the church or Prison Fellowship is doing but, but it is saying, ‘Let’s find ways that we can try to be pulling in the same direction,’ ’’ he said.

“My hope is that Out4Life Oregon will allow us to learn a new perspective, build a new relationship or discover a new idea that will help Oregon’s communities become a welcoming and supportive place for transitioning men and women,” said Max Williams, director of the state Department of Corrections and one of the conference participants.

Other participants included Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley; Dave Dahl, an ex-offender who is now vice president of Oregon-based Dave’s Killer Bread, and Steve Silver, another ex-offender who heads Salem’s Stepping Out Ministries.

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