ReTURNing Hearts Reentry Initiative

Overview

ReTURNing Hearts Reentry Initiative is the response of the religious community of Chester County to facilitate a successful return to society for released inmates from Chester County Prison and other correctional institutions.

This initiative is an attempt to support the Chester County Prison to reach it’s stated objectives as stated in its official Mission Statement:

The Mission of the Chester County Prison is to ensure the public, as well as the correctional staff, a safe environment that provides detention, rehabilitative, recidivism risk reduction, and re-entry services to those who are incarcerated so that they may live in a clean, humane, and secure environment and re-enter the community as a productive citizen.

It is evident in this short statement that Chester County is committed to preparing inmates for a successful return to their communities (the word reentry appears twice in a short paragraph) and to their families.

The religious community of Chester County is in an ideal position to support “our prison” to reach this ambitious and lofty goal. Churches are made up of tax-paying individuals (making them stakeholders) that collectively create a warehouse of resources to address the wide range of needs/challenges faced by an inmate after their release.

Goal

ReTURNing Hearts Reentry Initiative is facilitated by the Chaplaincy Department of Chester County Prison. Our goal is to create an “organic” and self-sustaining approach among approved religious volunteers (and the religious communities they represent) to prepare incarcerated individuals for release and reentry to the extend that they will not return to prison.

This means a deliberate attempt to be reentry-focused without creating a organisational monster with paid staff to drive/manage the program. Sadly, this type of project very often only “works” as long and only while funding lasts.

The goal of classic/stereotypical “prison ministry” in the past was to address the spiritual needs of inmates while they were incarcerated with little or no focus on the reality of a challenging reentry into society.

We aim for a paradigm-shift where the focus is not on living a healthy spiritual life while in prison but rather to live a healthy and productive life, based on a healthy spiritual foundation, after release.

The so-called American Dream comes to mind of a happy family (mom, dad and children) living in a beautiful house with a cute dog and a white picked fence in a “nice” neighborhood.

This house can not withstand the storms of life if it is not firmly based on a foundation of spiritual values and beliefs.

Focus Areas

The immediate focus is to provide all approved religious volunteers with the knowledge and skills to become reentry-agents. ReTURNing Hearts Reentry and Mentoring Training is a 3-hour interactive training session presented at the ReTURNing Hearts Reentry Center in Coatesville, PA.

ReTURNing Hearts Reentry and Mentoring Training

ReTURNing Hearts Reentry and Mentoring Training is compulsory for all approved religious volunteers at Chester County Prison.

Approved religious volunteers/visitors (i.e they obtained security clearance) will be registered with the Chaplain’s Office after they studied and acknowledged the requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). This will involve signing the PREA Acknowledgement Form (will be emailed to you) at Chester County Prison in the presence of the Assistant- Chaplain, an authorized witness.

Once their name is added to the list of approved religious volunteers they may arrange individual visits and/or participate in a team responsible for scheduled religious services on condition that they attend a 3-hour ReTURNing Hearts Reentry training session within 12 months of registration.

Resources

Maintaining a database of resources to address the challenges released inmates face is a top priority of the ReTURNing Hearts Reentry Initiative. Churches and individuals are invited to alert the Chaplaincy of any changes/updates or new resources. View the current list of reentry resources here.

Future Projects

The vision is that projects that grow out of church and community resources and that solve/address challenges to successful reentry will eventually be highlighted here. Contact rh@countycorrectionsgospelmission.org with thoughts, comments, questions about reentry projects in Chester County.