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How a program became a model for life after prison

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Posted at 3:47 PM, Jun 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-04 08:17:51-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Any given day at the Community Barber Shop in southeast Colorado Springs, there's a steady stream of customers coming in.

"It's an art," Thomas Carpenter, a barber at the shop said, "you're creating your own masterpiece, someone tells you what they want and you make your own masterpiece about it."

He picked up his first pair of clippers at 14 years old.

"The barbershop was your go-to, it was like the man's cave of man's cave," Carpenter said.

Carpenter spends his days listening to the stories of the people who come into the shop, but he and his fellow barbers have stories of their own.

Carpenter spent eight years in prison, recently released in January of this year- he joined the organization "Colorado Springs Works", which helps people recently incarcerated or involved with the criminal justice system go through job training to get hired in various fields.

"We all know that there's a finite amount of time when an individual gets out before they re-offend," Juaquin Mobley, Vice President of Community Works, which oversees programs in Colorado Springs and Denver.

Mobley was formerly incarcerated and during his time behind bars, he noticed people kept returning.

"I always asked them why were they back?" Mobley said, he learned two of the biggest barriers were jobs and housing, and while he was incarcerated he formulated the idea for the program.

Colorado Springs Works is just one of a few programs that benefited from grant funds within the last few years through the state's "Transforming Safety" initiative.

Legislative Background

The bipartisan bill, passed in 2017, allocated money to two communities in the state for a pilot program: north Aurora and southeast Colorado Springs.

In addition to making parole changes, it allocated more than six million dollars from the Department of Corrections budget into the Transforming Safety initiative.

The power was then given to community members, a group of about two dozen in southeast Colorado Springs, to decide priorities for reducing crime and recidivism, or the likelihood of someone returning behind bars.

Southeast Colorado Springs identified four priorities: support people who have been involved in the criminal justice system, help youth (up to age 25) develop skills and resilience to stop behaviors leading into the criminal justice system, improve community-based support to reduce violence and neglect, and address systemic causes of economic, racial, and academic disparities.

Based on those priorities, organizations meeting those needs could apply for grant funding.

"They were community organizations that had boots on the ground, they were doing the work, but were not being paid for it," Eula Tatman, program officer for the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, in charge of distributing grants in southeast Colorado Springs. "To our amazement and pleasure, they've all been able to meet those goals or exceed those goals."

Transforming Safety has a few components. Targeting programs for at-risk youth and those who were formerly incarcerated.

Another component is a small business loan program, which helps people involved in the criminal justice system receive loans to help kick start their business.

The original program was set to be reviewed in 2020, in 2019 lawmakers passed a bill to extend it to 2023.

With the pandemic, funding was cut by one million dollars, lowering the number of grantees able to receive funds.

In this current legislative session, lawmakers are considering an expansion of the program to Grand Junction and Trinidad.

How it's working

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Thomas Carpenter focuses at the "Community Barber Shop" while cutting a client's hair.

Since the program began distributing funds in 2018, data collected shows a significant improvement in behaviors among at-risk youth and formerly incarcerated Coloradans.

The Latino Coalition for Community Leadership collects data sent to the state for the program. In its most recent quarterly report, it shows 86 percent of program participants haven't returned to incarceration. 92 percent of them have obtained paid employment, started a business, or completed a training program.

The data collected shows the percentages during the time people are involved in the programs. The length of time can vary, in Colorado Springs works case- from one year to two and half years.

Mobley says depending on the needs of the participants, they'll have additional contact beyond the time they've gone through the program. He says about two and a half percent of participants have returned behind bars.

Department of Corrections recidivism data is based on a three-year period.

Throughout the last few years of Colorado Springs Works, the program has served hundreds of recently incarcerated or justice system-involved individuals. Mobley says this year the Colorado Springs organization's goal is to help 600 people this year.

"We need a bigger space, we need to help more people," Mobley said, "it's not going to stop until we help everybody."