Our Back Yard
By Polly Hamilton Greene/ St. Tammany Farmer
published Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 in the St. Tammany Farmer
Grads complete re-entry program
They may not be typical graduates, but the six people who successfully completed the Day Reporting Center (DRC) program in Covington proudly posed for pictures and expressed their thanks to DRC staff during a graduation ceremony held Jan. 8.
Day Reporting Centers, which strive to reduce the recidivism of individuals under supervision of probation and parole officers, are fairly new to the area. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections selected a private firm called GEO Reentry to open six centers in the state in July. Other DRCs are located in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Monroe, Alexandria and Bossier City.
Unlike traditional work-release programs or halfway houses, DRCs do not require an offender to reside at the program facility. DRCs work as an intense re-entry program to help offenders who are serving their early-release or probationary time. Most are referred by their parole officers. The attendees must complete three phases of the program, usually within a 90-day time frame, said Akeisha Penn, program manager of the Covington DRC.
The center provides evidence-based programming designed to rehabilitate offenders and successfully prepare them for life after jail or prison. Participants undergo cognitive behavioral therapy, employment readiness and career development, adult basic education and GED prep resources and referrals, life skills and parenting, and anger management and drug and alcohol classes. The program is then followed with aftercare.
Derrick Smith, of Covington, was one of the proud graduates. He completed his sentence in St. Tammany Parish Jail, but without a permanent home, he missed several appointments with his parole officer and was placed in the DRC program for failing to report.
“Once you start getting into the program, you find it works for you,” said Smith. “It helped with my anger, my problem solving, thinking before acting, drug abuse, staying away from negative people, communicating with other people and staying on the positive track.”
Smith, who has eight months left on his probation, is a frequent volunteer at the DRC. He helps staff while also talking to probationers and parolees about the program’s services and helping to mentor and motivate new participants.
During the brief ceremony, the graduates had a carnation pinned to their gown, signifying a new start in life and reintegration back into society. A single candle was lit to symbolize a new direction for the graduates to take the skills they learned from the program and to shine brightly.
“Use these tools that you’ve learned here and exceed in your life,” Penn told the graduates, “but always remember you are part of DRC and are always welcome.”
Case manager Karen Mason said often when new clients walk in the door they have the attitude of “why am I here?,” but at some point it becomes a safe place for them.
“They know we are here to listen, and they learn better ways to maneuver through this world,” Mason said. “To watch their growth is phenomenal.”
Nick McKee, who was a member of the Covington center’s first graduating class on Nov. 20, agreed. He attended the Jan. 8 ceremony to support his friends in the class behind him.
“It’s a good program, and it definitely gave me a second chance,” McKee said. “You don’t always get that.”