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Group helps former inmates

For one night, those who committed crimes and did their time will get the chance to meet service providers who can help them reintegrate into society.

An informational meeting for ex-offenders and their families is planned Sept. 26 at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in downtown Fredericksburg. The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m., and is sponsored by the Prisoner Re-Entry Council for Planning District 16.

Tables will be set up throughout the room, staffed by agencies dealing with topics from housing and employment to Social Services benefits and child support. Participants, including those whose relatives are about to be released from jail, can learn about options from people who provide the services, said Dave Coman, council director.

“Even if you don’t like the answer, you can make an informed decision as to what you want to do,” Coman said.

He listed some of the pressing questions ex-offenders have:

“What are the rules I will have to live under?”

“Where can I live if my parents don’t want me?”

“How do I get to an interview?”

Families of those being released also may wonder how former inmates can get food, clothes or transportation to jobs.

“We will encourage them to ask questions,” Coman said, “and when they can’t get what they might need, to ask for a referral to someone else in the room that might be able to answer their questions.”

Coman, whose full-time job is directing the King George Department of Social Services, has been helping prisoners adjust to life on the outside since 2004. In recent years, he’s been joined by those whose agencies deal with mental health, jobs, housing, restoring rights and education.

In 2010, Gov. Bob McDonnell established re-entry councils to increase safety in communities and to reduce the chances of former inmates returning to jail.

According to April 2013 data from the Virginia Department of Corrections, more than one-fourth of inmates released from jail—or 29 percent—are behind bars again within three years of leaving prison.

Planning District 16’s re-entry council covers Fredericksburg, and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

It is one of 42 re-entry groups in Virginia, including councils that serve the Culpeper region and Louisa County. A Northern Neck council is one of four statewide in the planning stages.

At the Sept. 26 informational meeting, participants also will be able to talk to ex-offenders who have made the transition and used some of the services available.

“We are encouraging them to be open about their likes and dislikes,” Coman said. For more information, call 540/775-5634.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425