Kentucky Re-entry Hotline

The Kentucky Re-entry Hotline, which provides support to people fresh out of prison, was one of eight national Innovations Awards in 2009 from The Council of State Governments.

State News, November / December 2009, by Mikel Chavers.
Kentucky Inmates Staff Statewide Hotline Assisting Former Inmates:

For people leaving prison in Kentucky, a small credit-card sized piece of plastic may offer help at times when it seems so hard to get back to living a normal life outside prison walls.
The card is simple; nothing fancy. But the message on the front speaks to a major issue that’s often overlooked. “Going home is an adjustment … Make yours easy …” it says. The card includes the number to Kentucky’s Re-entry Hotline, a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week support line, printed in bold red letters on the front. The hotline won one of eight national Innovations Awards from The Council of State Governments.

“Right now it’s tough for all of us, let alone those who are coming back into the communities that have been out of the work force and out of society for a while,” said Sheila Rucker, who runs the hotline from one of the state’s prisons.

People fresh out of prison or jail can call the hotline to get in touch with needed social services, financial services, emotional support, substance abuse treatment, community resources and much more.

Because when someone leaves prison, they often find themselves in an overwhelming world.
“Usually the men and women who call are typically at the end of their hope,” Rucker said. “And so they’re very thankful to have a live person on the other end.”

When former inmates call, they’re not speaking to people who can’t identify with their situations—they are speaking to inmates or parolees. The hotline is completely staffed by those housed at the Roederer Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Ky., just north of Louisville. The inmates who answer the phones are in the final phases of the Substance Abuse Treatment Program there, the one Rucker runs.

“Sometimes it is just an ear,” Rucker said. “These folks can identify with these callers and understand feeling stuck.”

“We did not want this to be something that we could hang our hat on that says this will stop recidivism. We wanted this to be another way to provide helpful information at any given time of the day or week so that people who were released from our jails and prisons would be able to access that information easily,” said Kevin Pangburn, director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Programming in Kentucky.

The hotline began in August 2007 and in the first year, it received more than 3,000 calls; that grew to more than 3,800 calls in the second year. Funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Formula Grant Program-basically pays to have the cards printed— the only long-term costs of the program aside from the phone lines and Internet connections.

What started as just a simple resource line designed to help ex-offenders in need turned into much more. The hotline also reaps dividends for the inmates staffing the lines. The inmates get a sense of giving back to the community, Rucker said.

One inmate answering the phones put it this way: “At first, I was a little nervous thinking what if someone calls and I can’t find the information for them that they need or not find it fast enough. People were happy to wait; they would call and have no place to go, no food, no clothes, transportation, job … they were happy with any information we could give,” the inmate said.
“… It made me feel good that I could at least listen and give some feedback that would help. It gives you a real sense of accomplishment to be able to help someone instead of being a burden to society.”

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