Each Tuesday, Utah Department of Corrections agents and support staff take over the gymnasium at the Fred House Training Academy, located on the grounds of the UDC Administration Office.
But there is no game being played at this gymnasium. No sides being chosen. In fact, just the opposite. Agents are trying to get everyone on the same team.
Welcome to the UDC’s new release day fair and orientation. It brings together those being released from incarceration and their loved ones with agents and community providers in an effort to improve the chances of a successful transition out of prison.
The goal is to provide detailed information about available resources and parole conditions to former offenders – and their support network. The hope is with everyone informed and on board, they will work as a team to reduce reentry obstacles and setbacks.
“Without community providers offering their support, many individuals returning to the community would continue to struggle, and may not be successful in transitioning back into the community,” according to Asst. Regional Administrator Eric Barker, who oversees the Adult Probation and Parole Release and Reentry unit.
The fair happens every Tuesday. While offenders inside the prison get identification cards and sign up for programs like Medicaid, AP&P provides a family orientation class at Fred House. The class details what to expect after release and how agents can help assist those on supervision.
Once the class and in-prison process are completed, inmates are transported to the fair. There, they and their families visit booths staffed by a variety of state and county agencies – including employment and recovery providers – plus community groups. The booths allow formerly incarcerated individuals the opportunity to connect with services that best fit their needs.
They also do a video check-in with parole agents, eliminating the requirement to make an initial office visit that day.
“I like that there are resources available,” said fair attendee Natalie Whiting, who was picking up a loved one. She said up to that point, she felt there was a lack of knowledge and awareness about what was available, forcing her to do a lot of navigating on her own.
“I don’t know if they all apply to my loved one,” she said while looking around the gathering at Fred House, “but there is a discussion going on. That’s a positive.”
Those that staff the booths also said the new process has been beneficial. Bethany Shaffer, a rehabilitation technician with the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, said 100 percent of those who signed up for an office visit during one of the previous fairs made it to the appointment. She says having the former inmate’s support staff participating deserves some of the credit.
“Their families encourage them to come,” she said. “They’re involved.”
The new release process began in July, with the expanded fair and video check-in services being added in September. AP&P Release and Reentry Supervisor Katie Bennett – who along with Barker does the orientation – said the program is working, but will keep evolving.
“We’ve been getting tons of feedback and we’re adding agents,” she said. “We’re improving the process and making it smoother.”
Public Information Office, Sept. 24, 2019