JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — For every 10 Louisiana inmates released from jail, five will end up back behind bars but a local program is working to drastically buck that trend.
There's something different happening in Jefferson Parish where there is a success story, turning released felons around by giving them work and it's keeping them from heading back to prison.
Damon Roby, 40, was facing 20 years in prison for a drug conviction.
Instead of sitting in jail, the Kenner man is now working as an electrician at Avondale Marine.
"Right now, I feel like I've received my blessings," Roby said. "The blessing was to become an honest citizen."
John Moran, 33 and Reginald Kemper, 49, also have jobs at Avondale.
They too were looking at long jail sentences for drug-related crimes. Moran is from Metairie and is a welder.
"Now, I have a job that's going to be my career for the future," Moran said. "I'm proud of myself having a job."
Kemper, who is from California, is an auto mechanic.
"Being here I feel like I'm a part of a team, an establishment," Kemper said. "I feel good as a man."
These men received vocational training and moral rehabilitation at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
They each spent two years behind bars working on a skill.
Roby claims Angola was the best place to get the training because he was able to see where his life would have end up if he kept committing crimes.
"You can see the guys and you can hear their outlooks on how you should get yourself together so you don't be in the shoes they are in," Roby said. "They got guys up there that have been up there 20, 30 years."
Judge Scott Schlegel from the 24th Judicial District Court in Jefferson Parish runs the re-entry program for the parish.
"We can do the same thing or we can say look, we're going to adopt a smart on crime initiative, not a soft on crime (initiative)," Schlegel said. "The goal of the program is we have no more victims."
Statewide statistics show that about half of released inmates will end up back behind bars.
However, Schlegel said since he started the program in 2015, only one of 25 participants has re-offended.
"They have to work," Schlegel said. "They have to remain drug-free. They are in court every Wednesday morning at 8 o'clock with me. We have a licensed professional counselor on staff that they have to meet with once a week."
Natalie Newton from Host Terminals, which acquired the shuttered Avondale Shipyard last October, said the company has hired seven re-entry workers since last month.
"They're really dedicated," Newton said. "They show up for work everyday, ready to work. They tell me they're happy to come to work."
The Jefferson Economic Development Commission has been a longtime supporter of the re-entry court and its mission. The commission connected Avondale with the program.
Newton said she hopes to hire additional re-entrants as business picks up at their West Jefferson site.
"We feel every member of the community needs to be involved." Newton said. "Everybody deserves an opportunity. These guys are no different."
"As a former prosecutor, I completely understand the difference between the violent offender that needs to be incarcerated for a long time versus the individual that if you give them a chance they actually can and will change their lives," Schlegel said.
The re-entry workers said they are determined not to squander the opportunity they've been given by returning to a life of crime.
"Out of 40 years I've been living, I never had an opportunity like this here," Roby said. "It will be good for me and my kids."
"Today, I'm a proud man," Kemper said. "I'm responsible. I'm paying bills. My mom's happy. My family's happy."
"I have two boys," Moran said. "They look up to me. I don't want them to go down the same path that I took."
The Jefferson Parish re-entry program is patterned after a similar program started in New Orleans under Judge Arthur Hunter and Judge Laurie White.