Early inmate release program, the start of a new beginning

"It's very important they have a job so they can be reintegrated back into society."

NEW ORLEANS -- Over 1900 inmates were released yesterday before their initial sentence was up.  So, what's next for them? 

Eyewitness News traveled with Todd Higgins with Black Men of Labor, a non-profit, to see how the group is helping some former inmates reintegrate.

"Within 10 days they'll be working," said Todd Higgins, COO for Black Men of Labor.

Black men of Labor, a non-profit, aims to preserve culture as well as help anyone find a job. Eyewitness News met Higgins yesterday when he was reaching out to early release inmates at the Orleans Probation Office. 

"They come here they get to learn how to work, how to be responsible, how to accountable," Higgins said.

The next day, we met Higgins at a job site where he's employed some former inmates.  Cindy Frazier is one of them.

"Once you're in there you really appreciate your freedom," Frazier said.

Frazier was about to get out early after taking courses and maintaining a good standing, but even though she's out, life outside can still be somewhat punishing.

"Once they ask you the question, the box on there that asks you have you ever been to prison?  Once that box is checked a lot of your options are gone," she said.

Matthew Hawthorne also had to work hard to get out early.

"You have to earn a good time," he said. "It's not like they just let you go free."

Both Frazier and Hawthorne say they had no violent offenses, and they spent their time in prison working to rehabilitate themselves.  Hawthorne now sees the errors of his old ways after spending seven years in prison.

"The guys told me they love me, but they didn't really show that they love me, they gave me street knowledge instead of a work ethic," Hawthorne said.

And now both say they are on the right path, even if it starts with back-breaking work.

"It's a lot of labor," Higgins said. "It's not just this we have a lot of men and women that are certified as auto mechanics, carpenters."

Understandably, some are still critical of the early release program, saying it's soft on criminals.

"These people have their second chance with us, and when they are placed in a permanent workforce that shows that they've learned their lesson," Higgins said.

But Higgins added, letting people prove themselves is the ultimate road to redemption. 

Nov. 1's release was just the first wave.  Over the course of the next few months, about two dozen more inmates could be released if they meet qualifications.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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