NEW ORLEANS — Goodwill Industries is working with a number of groups in Orleans Parish to support those with moderate-to-high criminal offenses, in hopes to decrease the number of repeat offenders around the state.  

The non-profit, about 100 other faith-based organizations and dozens of public agencies joined to create the Orleans Re-entry Task Force, which will pool resources to help citizens' re-enter into society after prison.

Kim Rugon, Vice President of Workforce Development for Goodwill, said coordination between groups is key. 

"We're tired of our ex-offenders returning to the city and not having the proper services and resources they need to re-acclimate back into society," Rugon said.

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Rugon said the task force is made up of 67 social service agencies and about 100 faith-based organizations. Together, they say they've made a plan to ensure those who served time can get back on their feet after prison. 

"If I don't have the services here at Goodwill, then I can call one of the members at the coalition and say, OK, I have someone who needs housing, I have someone who needs mental health," Rugon said.

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The creation of the task force comes after a push from Governor John Bel Edwards to focus on incarceration reform. As a result, Goodwill was awarded money from the state through a Justice Reinvestment Initiative grant. 

According to Goodwill leaders, about $20 million was made available when Louisiana began the initiative to release offenders from jail who had committed lesser crimes.

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"I don't want to invest more into incarceration, I want to invest more into reform," Edwards said

With the task force, Rugon is working to make sure about 700 of those housed at the Plaquemines Parish Jail who committed moderate-to-high crimes -- like drug possession and armed robbery -- have a blue print to make sure they don't go back to jail.

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The plan is to get them services like counseling and training to get back into the workforce, Rugon said. The goal is to help more than 350 offenders in the task force's first year. 

"I feel like these are guys who deserve that second chance, some have had time, they've been in jail long enough, they had remorse, a lot of our ex-offenders are coming back on the scene to a new Orleans that looks totally different," Rugon said.

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State leaders, however, have disapproved of Edwards releasing of the prisoners.

In 2018, Senator John Kennedy said, "If the governor wants to continue letting these guys go, I think we're going to have more murders and it doesn't give me any pleasure to say that."

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According to the Louisiana Department of Corrections, 12 percent of inmates released had been detained for non-misdemeanor crimes or had their probation revoked for violations.

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