When you think of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, what first comes to mind? Could it be the often cited statistic that Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate per capita in the world? Do you think of the large amount of prisoners who are serving life sentences?
Perhaps one of the last things you might think about are those few inmates who are granted parole and will rejoin a society that has significantly changed since they were placed behind bars. These inmates will face a whole new set of immediate obstacles: How will they get home? Where will they live? Will they be hired with a felony?
The Cornerstone Builders program aims to reintegrate newly released individuals into society through community and service, guiding them through the challenges they will face once they leave prison. By “meeting the inmate at the gate,” Cornerstone Builders is the first influence on a newly released inmate, ideally leading that individual to a positive and normal life.
The name “Cornerstone” comes from Psalm 118:22-24, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
If we pick up the rejected members of society and empower them, society will become stronger as a whole.
Cornerstone Builders is a prisoner re-entry program that promotes a holistic approach to reintegration to society and justice as a whole. Instead of simply giving individuals money or a house, the program works to provide a positive and healthy environment for those enrolled. These individuals are supported in all aspects of their lives which lessens their chance at re-offending.
In partnership with AmeriCorps, the Cornerstone Builders program guarantees 100 hours of work, a full stipend and living arrangements. By partnering with local non-profits and connecting former inmates to meaningful and inspiring work opportunities that match with their talents and interests, the program hopes to guide these individuals to a possible career path.
By connecting with prisoners in the days leading up to their release, Cornerstone Builders works to find the prisoners housing and a paying job. Providing them with mentorship and community, Cornerstone Builders aims to remove any and all obstacles these individuals might face.
According to Leo Jackson, a key leader in Cornerstone Builders, “The first 72 hours is the most critical time for a person transitioning out of prison. It’s during that time, a decision is going to be made whether he goes back to the streets or he is going to pursue a legitimate life.”
In Louisiana, 48 percent of ex-offenders are likely to be back in jail within five years. However, if released prisoners are able to find and hold a job for three years, that rate drops by more than 50 percent.
The first 72 hours is the most critical time for a person transitioning out of prison. It’s during that time, a decision is going to be made whether he goes back to the streets or he is going to pursue a legitimate life.
The Re-Entry 72 program provides emergency housing, immediate employment and other support services to persons within the first 72 hours of release from local correctional facilities. In 2015, the program assisted and served 60 newly released individuals.
Cornerstone Kids Mentoring Program
There are currently more than 2.7 million children in the United States that have one or more parent that is currently incarcerated. Having an incarcerated parent can be hugely stigmatizing, anxiety inducing and confusing. The Cornerstone Kids Mentoring Program aims to give children with incarcerated parents a strong support system so as to comfort the child mentally and mentor that child through all struggles they face.
With the help of dedicated volunteers, the mentoring program puts on activities and meetings that grow trust, confidence, enthusiasm, personal growth and positive thinking.
Cornerstone Builders Bus Project
For incarcerated individuals, family visits can incentivize good behavior and also keep them connected to their main line of support. However, the 13 various correctional facilities are often out of distance for families to consistently drive to. Cornerstone Builders coordinates free transportation for families of incarcerated individuals to these locations with the help of volunteers and donors.
The Cornerstone Builders program is committed to a future of restorative justice for all by addressing systematic issues that occur in the justice system. We rely heavily on volunteers who are called to serve and donors who feel inspired to help promote a program that not only is actively is changing lives, but is also positively influencing the community of New Orleans.