Hard times: Former inmates, officials talk transition from prison

Hope Cafe makes a stop in Granger

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Arthur Hernandez of Yakima joins in the discussion during the Hope Cafe event in Granger.

— Former prison inmates, community members and state officials are searching for common ground to keep offenders from returning to jail.

The state Department of Corrections offered its 44th Hope Café Tuesday at the city’s community center at KDNA.

“Over the past four years our recidivism rate has increased from 27 to 32 percent,” Deputy Secretary Jody Becker said as a crowd of about 60 people broke into small groups.

Reducing recidivism, or the rate of former inmates re-offending and returning to jail, is a promise Becker said her agency has made to Gov. Jay Inslee.

The Hope Café program began last June and Becker said the goal is to get inmates, families, state and local corrections officials across the table from each other.

“For many of them it’s the first time they’ve felt seen, heard or valued as an individual,” Becker said of the response from prison inmates.

Arthur Hernandez, who said he has been “in and out of prison” traveled from Yakima to attend the three-hour event.

“I definitely agree,” he said of the program’s goal. “It gets us all on level ground when we can talk and see what we can do to help each other.”

During a discussion on “bold steps” to reduce recidivism, Hernandez and Tracy Johnson from the Department of Corrections office came up with an idea for former inmates who have improved their lives.

Together, he and Johnson chatted about Hernandez mentoring newly released inmates during the transition process.

Hernandez said he wished that would have been offered to him.

“I feel like my final three years in prison I was a model inmate,” he said. “I would think someone like me could have received some help when I got out, but there was nothing. I wasn’t given anything.”

Johnson corrected him a bit, noting there were resources while admitting they were “limited.”

Becker said more than 6,000 people have been reached during the year of Hope Café programs. An action plan will be developed and implemented based on comments received during each event,

Rep. Bruce Chandler of Granger applauded the idea during a brief stop at the event.

“Whatever we can do to minimize or eliminate recidivism is great,” he said. “I think they’re right on track.”



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