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RISE fights to end cycle of incarceration inside Nebraska prisons

Posted at 6:55 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 19:55:39-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — RISE, a reentry organization based in Omaha, has a vision that all people will find freedom from the cycle of incarceration and be accepted by society.

“People serve their sentences, but I think society continues to hold their crimes against them,” RISE CEO Jeremy Bouman told 3 News Now. “That’s why our program is really focused on relationship building and having folks have hope and confidence about what their life can be.”

RISE has programs in seven Nebraska prisons to help currently incarcerated individuals prepare for life after release and keep them from falling back into the system. It has an inside-out program in which the work starts inside the prison, and continues after release or parole, to ensure formerly incarcerated people have the support and access to affordable housing and employment.

The programs focus on character development, entrepreneurship, and job readiness by providing interview and resume support, including how to openly talk about their situation.

“The mindset shift with hiring managers that we're seeing now is that they're interested in education, and how to empathetically interview, and embrace people for who they are today, and not for the mistakes that they made previously,” said Eduardo Gardea, employment specialist at RISE. “We’ve gotten here by encouraging our individuals to just embrace their truth because this may be the first time that they've ever been encouraged and supported."

The nonprofit’s policy work includes decreasing the incarcerated population in Nebraska’s correctional facilities and improving living conditions in the prisons.

“We have put people in cages in our country more than any other country in the world and a lot of people care about social justice and that it's a human rights issue, that it's a public health issue,” said Bouman. “It's also very expensive to incarcerate people. It costs $36,000 a year for one person for one year, and we're the second most overcrowded system in the country, so, it's also an economic issue."

RISE’s reach has impacted hundreds. It currently has 65 in-prison enrollments and 472 people have graduated from the program. Overall, the employment rate for graduates is 90 percent.

Bouman added that another unfortunate high statistic is the disproportionate number of people of color who are incarcerated.

He said, “When you look at the percentages in our community of people who are Latino or Black, and the percentages of those in our prison system, it's pretty out of whack, where almost half of the people we have incarcerated are people of color.”

To address the racial issue and support all individuals, RISE also focuses on case management support upon inmate release, which includes a business incubator, reentry planning, job readiness training, and transitional housing.

“When they parole or mandatory release back to the community, they continue to work with our reentry team and case managers on things around mental health, issues related to recovery, and housing and employment. 89% of people who re-offend that come home, don't have a job at the time that they re-offend,” said Bouman.

RISE also has a Business Academy, a 12-week program that’s meant to promote independence and self-sufficiency.

“They basically learn everything about entrepreneurial mindset, they learn about how to run and operate their business, and with that, they work on their business plan, which at the end they get to present at a pitch competition,” said Alejandra Jimenez, who leads the program and serves as the organization’s reentry programs specialist.

RISE is hosting their Rise & Shine event Friday, July 23 from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. at the Bike Union and Coffee near 18th and Dodge Streets. It’s a casual open table gathering where people can network, connect, and learn more about RISE. It’s open to the public.

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