Fairbanks providers help prisoners rejoin society

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - A retired judge, who is well known for forming the first mental health court in the United States, was the keynote speaker at the Fairbanks Re-entry Coalition's meeting Thursday. The Fairbanks Re-entry Coalition is a partnership of providers who offer services for people coming out of jail and prison. Meetings are held regularly to try and coordinate the needs of individuals rejoining society, so they can be successful in the community.

"Re-entry is everywhere. The second you walk into, in fact the second you make police contact, if you are a prisoner going in, that's an opportunity for re-entry. Right, that person is already on the cusp of being taken out of and into the correctional pathway," Stephanie Rhoades, retired District Court judge.

Rhoades says it can be challenging for those who have records to find jobs and housing. But these are essential needs, and key elements for people to stay out of the cycle, and out of the system.

"There is a lot of stigma against people who have served sentences. There is a lot of barriers for those folks. People who have serious mental health issues and substance abuse disorders have a big difficulty finding treatment," she said.

Rhoades says the individuals who work within the coalitions and agencies are essential in helping people navigate through some of the obstacles they may face because they have been heavily institutionalized.

"It's really important to have people in the community to help them to cheer them on, give them some support, give them some guidance, give them some mentor ship, and then also what this coalition does which is really great is to break down some of that stigma that employers, housing providers, treatment providers have around providing services to people who are criminalized," she said.

Rhoades says there is a lot of work still to be done, but with the Coalition's continued efforts, they are able to see where the needs in the community are and help individuals find available resources.