Advocates say helping inmates transition to life outside reduces crime, saves money

Posted at 7:56 PM, Aug 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-24 21:56:24-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Second chances don't come around often, but a group in Utah is providing that opportunity for people who are transitioning out of incarceration and back into society.

It's called ASCENT, or Achieving Success Through Collaborative Engagement Transition.

The newly launched multi-local, state and federal agency has created services to help those people who struggle to adjust to private life and become citizens of society. A new service has joined that effort, Inspiro Recovery. The co-creator is a former felon named Kenny O'Rourke.

"All the things that I thought would hold me back, now they are an asset to me," O'Rourke said.

O’Rourke spent almost two decades in and out of prison.

"When I started using drugs, I got incarcerated for the first time at about age 13," he said. "That was a pattern for the rest of my life, and I spent 16 years inside a prison cell, and the time I didn’t spend in a prison cell, I spent time in the gutter."

O'Rourke says he came from a poor, violent and tragic childhood.

"My dad passed away when I was 9 to a drunk driving accident," he said.

Drugs were his release from the pain. He said while in prison he made bad choices and joined a gang.

"I hurt a lot of people along the way," O'Rourke said. "I didn't do it maliciously. I did it ignorantly. And it's the same thing. If I pulled a gun out and accidentally shoot you in the leg, it'd hurt just the same if I did intentionally."

When he finally got out of prison, he found the tough part was finding a life.

"I felt like I was the only person in the world," he said. "I didn't know how to get a driver's license, I didn't know how to get a birth certificate. It was so scary to me and overwhelming that I didn't ever feel like I could do it, so I never tried."

He found his way to treatment, then he started volunteering to help guide others at that treatment center. That lead to a part-time job.

"After two weeks, after child support, I would end up with like $60 but I felt rich; I was blessed," he said.

Now he has made a career of helping others who were in his shoes by creating his new company called Inspiro Recovery. He has teamed up with multiple state and local agencies that are working hard to find these people jobs and housing, so they can function as a member of society.

"People who parole out of prison, about two-thirds of those people will come back to prison," said Steve Gehrke, The Department of Corrections’ Director of Quality and Improvement.

He said if we continue to ignore the revolving system, more people outside of system will be hurt.

"The more people realize this is a public safety issue, it's not simply giving a handout to people who have criminal backgrounds, but it's actually benefiting the public because you pay less if these people are staying out of prison, that these are taxpayers and are contributing to society," he said. "And if they are not out recommitting crimes, they are not victimizing people."

The legislature has created some new positions, including a team of transition specialists. That's something Kenny said he knows will help everyone who felt the way he did the day he got out of jail, lost.

"For me, I felt broken," he said. "I felt broken beyond repair, and as soon as I believed I had a chance, that motivated me to fight for my life."