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Reincarceration in the Commonwealth

Several inmates read papers while sitting at metal tables.
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Chesterfield County runs the Participants of the Helping Addicts Recover Progressively (HARP) program to decrease recidivism rates.

A local jail is combating recidivism with a program that aims to rehabilitate inmates.


DeWARREN FITZGERALD (CHESTERFIELD CO. HARP PARTICIPANT): I've done probably 17 years since I was 18, in and out, in and out.

A.J. NWOKO: In just over three months-


A.J. NWOKO: DeWarren Fitzgerald will be a free man and this time he intends to stay that way.

DeWARREN FITZGERALD: I always thought that coming to jail, getting out and coming back was the normal thing to do until I came into this program.

A.J. NWOKO: That program is called Helping Addicts Recover Progressively or HARP. It's been a staple in the Chesterfield County Jail for nearly a decade, investing in inmates like Fitzgerald with the hope that this is the final sentence they'll ever serve.

DeWARREN FITZGERALD: Until I got arrested in Chesterfield, I thought that was my life.

A.J. NWOKO: In addition to mental health services and substance abuse rehabilitation, HARP participants are taught new skills to prepare them for the workforce.

DeWARREN FITZGERALD: I got my forklift license here. I got PRS certified. And now they have a roofing class. They have a horticulture class.

A.J. NWOKO: All of this to curb the county's recidivism rate.


A.J. NWOKO: Bailey Hilliard is the rehabilitations program manager of the jail. She says the county's methods are the key to keeping the recently released from returning to damaging habits.

BAILEY HILLIARD: For us to be a part of a restorative justice system, it means that we are doing something very different from a lot of people.

A.J. NWOKO: For graduates like Archie Jones, that difference has meant...


A.J. NWOKO: For seven years straight and counting.

ARCHIE JONES: It's the greatest thing to ever happen to a person they've been incarcerated most of their life.

A.J. NWOKO: A complete 180 from the 40 years prior he spent in and out of jail. Now, the only reason why Jones comes back is to show others that change is possible.

ARCHIE JONES: Someone is sitting in that room. They don't believe that they can get a stay out and then someone come in and say they were sitting in those same seats and I've been free seven straight years. If that's not good enough for me to want to change.

BAILEY HILLIARD: We like to look at it here like we give people opportunity to make different choices and make the changes in their life.

A.J. NWOKO: According to a 2019 review of HARP by VCU Health, from 2016 to 2019, 45% of inmates who didn't participate in HARP were rearrested after being released, compared to just over 28% of graduates. However, the review did not detail how soon after release former inmates reoffended. Virginia had a 20.6 recidivism rate for state that report re-incarceration rates within three years according to the U.S. Department of Corrections. But Hilliard says recidivism rate alone does not completely illustrate Virginia's success.

BAILEY HILLIARD: If you're coming back to jail twice a year instead of six times a year. That, to me, is a reduction, for reducing behaviors.

A.J. NWOKO: But measuring success through recidivism gets complicated, especially when comparing other states. North Carolina measures based on new incarcerations, while Georgia measures based on new convictions, even if there is no incarceration. And still other states measure based on arrests alone.

DANA SCHRAD (EXEC. DIRECTOR, VA ASSOCIATION OF CHIEFS OF POLICE): I don't know if the formulas for how we calculate this tell us as much as whether or not we are giving people opportunities at different stages of their involvement in the criminal justice system to actually take the right path.

A.J. NWOKO: That's Dana Schrad with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. She says in addition to rehabilitation efforts,

DANA SCHRAD: what are we doing with people while we have them incarcerated and how long are we keeping them?

A.J. NWOKO: From the perspective of victims of crime, time served is the other component that must be addressed

DANA SCHRAD: That's really the key part we think of restorative justice as making sure that takes place at an integral point in someone's life where they can still have a higher degree of success in terms of turning away from a life of crime.

A.J. NWOKO: But Fitzgerald believes he's made that turn and he's ready to prove it.

DeWARREN FITZGERALD: My story is just beginning.

A.J. NWOKO: For VPM News, I'm A.J. Nwoko.

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