Springfield leaders: John Legend program may aid ex-inmates, cut crime

Local leaders say Springfield native John Legend’s new initiative aimed at getting people to work after they’ve been incarcerated will shine a light on the efforts they’ve made to do that in Clark County and cut re-offending rates.

Legend unveiled his new program Thursday — called Unlocked Futures on CBS This Morning. It will invest in business and entrepreneurial ideas for those who have spent time in jail.

“We’re going to provide some money to seed some entrepreneurs that have come out of prison and want to change their lives,” Legend said.

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That’s good news to leaders of the Opportunities for New Direction program, part of Clark County Opportunities for Individual Change. The program helps recently released inmates re-enter the community with a goal of significantly cutting the rate of those who committ crimes again.

The recidivism rate for those returning to state prisons was 28 percent last year, down from 47 percent, the group has said.

Any extra attention given to the obstacles people face when they’re released from jail or prison could help with their efforts locally, said Brad Andringa, re-entry coordinator for Clark County.

“To have such an important and influential name like John Legend, I think that can only help the cause,” he said. “Especially being from Springfield, Ohio, I think it brings needed attention to the issue.”

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Workers with the OIC reach out to inmates when they’re still incarcerated, he said, and continue to work with them when they’re released.

They offer them help with anything they need, said Bob Mims, director of re-entry services for Clark County.

“We offer resume writing, we offer interviewing skills … provide them with clothing for job interviews,” Mims said.

About 450 former inmates come through their program each year, he said. Last year the program placed about 110 people in full-time jobs.

But more funding would help their efforts, said Mike Calabrese, executive director of OIC.

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“There needs to be a more driven and targeted support for the work of re-entry throughout the state of Ohio,” Calabrese said. “Re-entry services is not funded at the level that it needs to be funded and that’s something that we advocate for.”

The added attention to the issue from Legend could help with that, Mims said.

“Hopefully people listen to him,” Mims said. “Our agency has been in the business of helping people for 40 some odd years. So any help that we can get, we appreciate it, but we’re going to keep doing what we do.”

In his interview with CBS This Morning, Legend said the struggles of what he called mass incarceration across the country personally affected him.

“My mother had an issue with drugs when I was younger and she was in and out of jail during my teenage years,” he said.

People with drug problems need help, he said, not punishment.

“We are the most incarcerated country in the world,” he said. “We have 5 percent of the world’s population and we have 25 percent of the world’s prison population.”

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