Program connects with parolees

From the Oregonian, August 21, 1997

Glasker Rankin has spent nearly half of his 42 years bouncing in and out of prison. But his time behind bars didn’t stop him from using drugs the minute he was paroled. The only lesson he learned: never visit your parole officer.

Glasker Rankin Jr., 1954- 2005

Glasker Rankin Jr., 1954- 2005

READ – Glasker Rankin Jr., 1954- 2005

“Once my parole officer said, `Come on in; we’ll get you a job,’ and they arrested me,” he said.

When Rankin was paroled in January, he again used drugs and avoided his parole officer. But when Rankin learned that the officer had issued a warrant for his arrest, he did something completely different.

He turned himself in.

After a few weeks in jail, Rankin was released and is enrolled in a drug-treatment program. He has been clean for nearly four months — his longest drug-free stretch in two decades.

Why were things different this time? The African American Project.

The Multnomah County project, which began in January, gives Rankin and other eligible parolees intensive counseling, drug and alcohol treatment, and job assistance. The parole officers and counselors who staff the project are all African American.

“It’s designed to reduce the rate at which African -American men are sent back to prison,” said Carl Goodman, who heads the program.

The county corrections department created the program in response to a 1994 study showing that African -American men are being arrested, convicted and imprisoned at a higher rate than any other group in Multnomah County.

The study found that in the county, 41 percent of African -American parolees are sent back to prison within two years of release, compared with 30 percent of white parolees.

“People are coming out with limited employment, drug and mental-health problems, and a lack of families and support,” Goodman said.

Participation in the project is strictly voluntary. More than 60 men are enrolled in the program, Goodman said, and more than 40 prisoners are preparing to enter it. Participants range in age from 18 to 65.

Only prisoners eligible for transfer to the Columbia River Correctional Institution, a minimum-custody prison, qualify for the project. Sex offenders and active gang members are not eligible.

The project is staffed by two parole officers and one substance-abuse counselor.

Prisoners begin the program 60 to 90 days before they are paroled. While in prison, they attend weekly two-hour seminars on topics such as managing money, finding a place to live, looking for work and staying off drugs. They also meet with their parole officers.

“Before the program was put into place, we didn’t have contact with clients before they were released,” parole officer Gloria Fluker said.

When the prisoners are released, they must report to their parole officers within 24 hours. The parole officers and the parolees, called “clients,” work together to create personalized action plans. The plans may include formal drug treatment, high school equivalency classes and job training.

Clients are required to meet with their parole officer at least once a month, but in practice, they meet more often. Some clients log more than 20 visits or telephone calls each month, Fluker said.

Project clients get more attention than the average parolee. Most parolees don’t have to meet with their parole officers until 30 days after they are released, and the officers give them generic action plans that aren’t tailored to their individual needs.

Goodman and his staff say the project is a culturally focused effort that addresses issues specific to African -American men. When asked to explain what is culturally specific about the project, substance-abuse counselor Terrol Johnson replied, “How do I explain my blackness?

“The information is the same, but how I present the information is different. I talk in the language they speak.”

Clients say that for the first time they trust and respect their parole officers.

“Before, they never asked me what I needed,” said client Robert F. LyDay “I was just a piece of paper. They didn’t know my issues.”

LyDay, who has spent 16 out of the past 20 years in Oregon State Penitentiary for drug-related offenses, said he now relies on his parole officer, Juanita Johnson, to help him stay clean . He once spoke on the telephone with Johnson for 1 1/2 hours.

“We have established a relationship where they care,” he said.

Rankin said he is looking for a job and plans to enroll in a high school equivalency program.

“I want to do it now,” he said. “I see I’ve got support.”

While the parole officers and their clients are close, both groups say the clients are held accountable for bad behavior. LyDay and Rankin have had brief jail stints for drug-related offenses.

“There are rules and regulations, and I don’t lose sight of them being parole officers,” LyDay said. “But they are a support system for me rather than `us against them.’ ”

The project is 8 months old, and officials indicate it is too early to say whether it will work. But the clients say they have hope for the first time in many years.

“I can see myself as being a productive member of society,” Rankin said. “Once I get my job, I’ll be a taxpayer.”