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GEORGIA CALLS UNVEILS PLANS TO HELP INMATES AFTER PRISON

After prison, nearly 30 percent of Georgia’s offenders reportedly find themselves unable to lead a normal life without the temptation of repeating their crimes. But a new Buford-based charity has an unusual — and, officials say, innovative — plan to combat the cycle.

At its pilot office off Buford Highway, Georgia CALLS plans to put a dozen newly-released inmates to work in a small call center for Buford answering-service contractor VoiceNation, while also managing their lives and teaching them the skills needed to start their own business.

The charity, whose first ex-convicts are set to start work at the beginning of October, officially revealed its plans Friday morning. Partnerships with the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry and Phillips Transitional Center were also announced.

James Payne, superintendent of Phillips Transitional Center, said the program has the potential to “transform lives.”

“So many of these guys missed out on what’s necessary, the building blocks, for becoming a mature adult,” Payne told a small crowd at the organization for a tour and opening ceremony Friday morning. “The program that Georgia CALLS has provided them is going to lay not just that foundation but supply each and every block as needed.”

The offenders, 12 men who will be selected in the coming days, are coming from Payne’s center, which is an arm of Phillips State Prison in Buford. Recently, Georgia CALLS employees have visited the facility and interviewed candidates for the program, giving the men hope that they may find better lives out of prison, the superintendent said.

In the first year, those chosen will be employed by the call center, which takes calls form businesses ranging from doctors to hotels, and work with a case manager, who will track their progress in their new lives. In the second year, the organization will train the former offenders to start their own business, a step which could help with the natural difficulties ex-convicts have finding work.

Jay Reeder, executive director of Georgia CALLS and president of VoiceNation, said he and others with the non-profit and company wanted to do something for the state’s troubled inmate population. The resulting program was born of around two years of work and collaboration with experts and college professors.

“Today, in the state of Georgia, we have — you guys know — a prison system that is exploding,” Reeder told attendees at the brief ceremony. “We have a high recidivism rate, and the reason is we’re not changing deeply-ingrained beliefs and world views. At Georgia CALLS, we’re not training people for a job — we’ve intentionally created jobs so we can train the people to see the world a new.”

Renee Snead of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry said the model has potential.

“The conversations that we’ve had with Georgia CALLS indicate to us that they really understand what evidence-based programing is all about,” she said during the ceremony. “Georgia CALLS is now going to be a model not only for (other) pilot sites but for other non-profits in the community and for non-profits across the state and the nation.”

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