The Gadsden Re-Entry Center is now operational and will be accepting inmates from across the state on January 13.
In an exclusive interview with The Herald, Sam Culpepper, Department of Correction’s (DOC) Region 1 director, and the new warden at the center, Walt Summers, talked about the re-entry facility and the impact for the community.
The center is taking 25 inmates at set intervals over the following months until the facility reaches full capacity at 432 inmates.
The $17 million medium-security prison re-entry center employees 92 staff members plus approximately 35 contract instructors through the company Unlimited Pass.
The center is located on 47 acres adjoining the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy
This facility is the first in Florida dedicated entirely to preparing inmates to re-enter the workforce and society.
Culpepper spoke about the re-entry center as a vision of former DOC director Walt McNeil, then by director Ken Tucker who continued the vision.
It has been under current secretary Michael Crews that the idea has continued and the result has been the Gadsden Re-Entry Center.
Culpepper explained that DOC has a matrix that includes three types of inmates in the system on a five-level scale
The ones and twos are those that come into the system, learn their lesson and, once out, don’t come back; the other extreme, the fives, are those that will be back no matter what is done for them, he explained.
The purpose of this re-entry center, he said, is to reach those in the middle, or the three- and four-categories.
Those inmates, he said, if they learn a skill, obtain a GED, and have drug and other counseling, have a better chance at re-entering society.
Culpepper said that the re-entry center’s goal is to help inmates get jobs when they leave the system.
He said that the vision of the DOC is to change lives to ensure a safer Florida.
“Our mission,” he continued, “is to promote safety for the public, our staff and offenders by providing security, supervision and care; offering opportunities for successful re-entry into society, and capitalizing on partnerships to continue to improve the quality of life in Florida.”
Culpepper stated the goal of the re-entry center is to have less crimes, less victims and a better citizen when an inmate is released from prison.
Culpepper said that the department has realized that to be able to continue to seek funds it needed to reduce recidivation. The way you do that, he said is to prepare them for a successful re-entry back into society.
Culpepper added that re-entry is the primary objective of this facility, but re-entry programs are going on throughout every institution in the state.
He said GEDs are up, vocational certificates are up and grade scores are up.
“We want to see the program work,” Warden Walt Summers said of the re-entry center. “The inmates that leave this facility,” he explained “will be our neighbors, sitting beside us at ball games and in grocery stores. We want them to be productive citizens.”
One important factor, Summers said, is the staff that has been hired at the re-entry center. He said they believe in the re-entry concept; they understand the importance of the success of the center.
“In years past our job was to protect the public,” Summers said, “which meant the inmates stayed inside fences. Once they satisfied their sentence we gave them $50 and a bus ticket and sent them home.”
The change in the mission, he said, came when it was realized that this was not working.
This re-entry center is the first in the state if not in the nation dedicated solely for the purpose of re-entry, Summers said. Inmates that will be housed at the center will have no more than 36 months left on their sentence.
The idea, he explained, was to get inmates through as many programs as possible before they are released. “Our days will be very structured,” he said.
A typical day will begin a 6 AM for breakfast; classes will start at 8 AM with some inmates assigned to food services and grounds for part of the day. Every inmate will be enrolled in a program with no idle time, he said.
In this facility, Summers said, there are classrooms in the dormitories which will allow for classes in the evenings.
For those groups, organizations or individuals in the community that would like to volunteer, Summers said there is plenty for them to do. “Any help is greatly appreciated,” he said.
If you are interested, he asks that you contact him at the re-entry center.