A bill in the legislature would look into extending a St. Louis effort to rehabilitate incarcerated youth across the state.

The measure would create a task force to develop a statewide plan for Prison to Prosperity, which provides a variety of services for inmates aged 17-to-24.

Dr. Alice Prince oversees the Young Adult Workforce Program for SLATE – the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment.  She says the program was started to help prepare young offenders to be successful once they leave jail.

“We began mentoring them and creating a behavior modification program for them, and a job readiness training, and a financial literacy training, and a technical training, all behind the bars” said Prince.  “So that time was used to make them a better citizen when they came out.”

Prince says Prison to Prosperity teaches soft skills to address life in society, as well as hard skills to help with job placement.  She made her comments at a recent hearing for the proposal in front of the House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee.

Rep. Bruce Franks (D-St. Louis) is sponsoring the bill.  He says he wants to take ideas that have worked in St. Louis and spread them across the state.

“One thing that I’ve learned since I’ve been in the legislature is that these problems are not exclusive to just our urban areas and just my community” Franks said.  “We could take a comprehensive approach together to really broaden all of our resources to help all of our areas with this particular issue.”

Rachel Gridler with Empower Missouri, a non-profit social welfare organization, spoke before the committee.  She said teaching skills is essential to bringing down repeat criminal activity and recidivism.

“None of us got here without somebody teaching us along the way how to do things to make it through life.  A lot of these people, they don’t have someone to do that.  That’s why they’re in this situation.  So if we don’t give then those skills, when they get out, especially young people, those recidivism rates aren’t going to go down.  They’re going to turn around.  And they’re going to be back in the same position.  They’re going to end up back in prison because they don’t have the skills to move forward.”

Prison to Prosperity teaches inmates to perform tasks such as establishing a bank account.   It also teaches them skills so they’ll have a better chance at finding a job.

While a spokesperson for the United Auto Workers trade union also testified in favor of the measure, no one opposed it.

Specifying that the agency normally wouldn’t adopt an opinion of any legislation, Isaac Amon with the state Department of Corrections offered testimony for informational purposes.  He said the department’s new director, Anne Precythe, is interested in the Prison to Prosperity program.

“Director Precythe is very open to this idea.  As you know, she wants to take a very holistic approach to looking at the criminal justice problem, including of course, recidivism rates.”

The program in St. Louis is funded by federal money along with a city contribution.  An expansion of Prison to Prosperity could be incorporated into polices at state correctional centers and well as local jails.

The task force would consist of 18 members who would meet four times and make recommendations to the legislature by the end of next year.