A federal mandate that aims to reduce recidivism and help convicted felons become successful members of the community is helping defendants on Guam looking for a second chance at life. The Second Chance Act was signed into law in April 2008 to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for individuals returning from incarceration by improving the re-entry process.
Chief Probation Officer for Guam and CNMI Kim Walmsley said there is a “changed philosophy” at the probation office, as officers and clients work as a team with the goal of clients becoming law-abiding and contributing members of the community.
“The hope is that we can help meet the needs of former inmates to give them the resources or services so that they can better reintegrate with the community at large,” Walmsley stated.
Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood says the program aims to “break the cycle.” She said, “It’s therapeutic and rehabilitative based. It’s evidence-based.”
'We are trying to assist'
Since 2012, the U.S. Probation Office has provided everything from temporary housing and transportation to job readiness training and emergency food supplies to clients released from prison and on supervised release. Support for clients is allowable only for emergency and transitional services. Walmsley said, “We find that the Second Chance Acts permits us to become part of the client’s possibility of being a successful member of the community. The client sees that we are trying to assist them and are working for their success.”
When defendants are on supervised release, Tydingco-Gatewood often reminds the individuals, “Let your children see that you’ve made the right choice to get on track and become a productive citizen. Let them see that you’ve done something good from all this bad.”
Systems Technology Administrator Barbara Perez Hattori said the probation office also started a Defender Offender Workforce Development program to help clients with resumes, apply for jobs, prepare for interviews and dress for success.
“(The office) works with them on presenting themselves in an interview, answering the question about being a convicted felon and how to best answer that with potential employers,” Hattori stated.
The U.S. Probation Office also provides free clothing to their clients through Carmen’s Closet, named after the late Carmen O’Mallan, a U.S. Probation officer who started collecting gently used clothing and other items for clients and their families before her passing.
“It’s so critical these defendants have jobs,” said Tydingco-Gatewood.
Overcoming the stigma
Walmsley said there is a stigma for clients to get jobs and be given a second chance among employers on island. But she said there are safeguards for employers, such as multiple mandatory drug tests every month and other monitoring by the probation office.
“You’re probably better off with hiring one of our clients than just the general mill because we’re monitoring them constantly. When they’re dedicated and they’re there, they’re hard workers. It’s just getting a job. They need that second chance,” she explained.
“We just hope that they can realize they’re valuable people, they have something to contribute they’re a member of the community. They’re just as equal a member as I am.”