How long have you been involved with the Reentry Round Table (RRT) and what brought you to this work?
I started with RRT close to their inception and got involved when I was the lead program specialist with Project Rio. I continued my participation after I was hired by Travis County as founder of the Offender Workforce Development Program with Criminal Justice Planning and currently as the Reentry Administrator with the Sheriffs’ Office at the Del Valle Correctional Complex.
How did you get interested in criminal justice and reentry issues?
In 1996, at the age of 17, my son was sent to prison for 20 years and I was devastated. I knew some of the basics of going to jail and prison but was unprepared for the issues that he would face once in the system. After doing further research, I learned so much about this issue that I knew I had to pay it forward and help other families navigate the system and advocate for their loved ones.
What is your professional background?
I have a BSW in Social Work from the University of Texas and began working with high risk youth and their families in 1988. Since that time I have held a variety of positions including:
TANF/Food Stamp worker and Survival Skills for Women facilitator with the Department of Health and Human Services. My focus was to assist women in getting off welfare and to better their lives through the JOBS program that revolutionized the welfare system.
Director of Volunteer Services: Directed and coordinated the overall management of the volunteer program for the region covering 30 counties.
Public information spokesperson for the region with the media covering 30 counties.
Appointed by Governor George Bush as Faith Liaison for Region 7 (covering 30 counties). I was the only Faith Liaison in Texas to hold Faith Based Conferences to bring government, faith based organizations, community organizations, and businesses together (Communities Connecting for a Better Tomorrow) to identify gaps in services and find solutions to strengthen communities and provide more effective and accessible services.
Project RIO program specialist with the Texas Workforce Commission. I scheduled, coordinated and conducted orientations in the Project Rio program and worked with recent releases from prison or ex-offenders on parole. I was the only program specialist in Austin that handled the sex-offender case load.
In 2007, I was appointed by Judge Biscoe and the Commissioners Court to work with Criminal Justice Planning to develop an intensive offender workforce reentry program which became known as the Offender Workforce Development Program. This program was well known and respected by my colleagues as well as people of a second chance. An award was presented to me in 2010 at a National Offender Workforce Conference in Dallas for Outstanding Leadership in Workforce, for all the reentry initiatives in Austin, TX.
In 2012, I was hired by Sheriff Greg Hamilton to create and develop a reentry program for the Del Valle Correctional Complex. I am currently the Reentry Administrator of Transition from Jail to Community which was created to focus primarily on housing issues, transportation issues, medical/mental health issues/employment, identification, checking on SSI/SSDI status and forms to reinstate SSI/SSDI benefits. Under this program inmates are assisted with applying for the Medical Assistance Program card that allows them to access health services in the community upon their release.
What is your vision for the future of reentry in Texas and Travis County?
I would like to see our Statewide Reentry Taskforce be truly active during the legislative season and to put forth and support a Certificate of Rehabilitation. This would allow for the pardon of individuals after 10 years of being a productive citizen in society and give them the ability to rent and work without prejudice/discrimination.
As for Travis County, I would like to see the creation of a one stop shop that includes all the services needed to address the barriers many face after leaving the system, together in one location. Because housing is one the main issues we need to address, I would like for Travis County to replicate the San Francisco Delancey Street Foundation concept. This would include intensive life skills classes to both men and women to empower them and give them confidence in handling crisis in their lives.
What is a key reentry policy that you’d like to focus on?
The key reentry policy that I think is needed the most is ACTUALLY preparing all inmates for their release from federal, state, and jail facilities. This could be achieved by requiring them to take reentry programs INSIDE of the system in order to prepare them for the outside world: Reentry 101. They would have a case manager inside the system helping them address barriers as well as direct them to agencies in the area they would be going home to.