How this big event could curb crime in Central Virginia

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RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Department of Corrections hosted a "Families for Success" seminar Saturday at the Arthur Ashe Center for families and friends of people who are incarcerated in prison or jail.

The goal is to help inmates released from prison adjust back into society.

It was the biggest event of its kind the VADOC has ever put on. There were probation chiefs from Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico, Petersburg and Hanover who spoke at the event.

Richmond resident Jerry Lee was one of the participants. He served time in prison for more than two decades and was released in March.

"I went to prison in 1992 for robbery charges in the city of Richmond,” he explained.

Lee knows all too well how hard it can be to re-enter our society after years serving time in prison. He is now a volunteer for the Department of Corrections. He speaks to inmates and their families all over the Commonwealth about the importance of having support for inmates about to be released.

"You need to start teaching them now and starting a conversation--what can we do to help each other?" he said. “Help family members understand what it’s going to take to help your loved on to re-enter this society."

"We have outstanding programs in prison but then they come back to the community. And sometimes they feel that it's us against them or us against the world. And sometimes they lose faith. And we want our offenders to know, we want our families to know that there are resources out there to help them to adjust into society,” said Marcus Hodges, the regional administrator for Department of Corrections.

Chiefs and local leaders held dialogue sessions on specific topics and hosted a resource fair. Lee says starting a conversation between  inmates and their families  is crucial.

"You run into a lot of communication lapse. You run a lot into ‘Well I thought you knew this.’ ‘No I don't. I've been in prison for 23 years. My whole train of thought or function in a normal society has pretty much been erased,’” he said.

According to recent data from Association of State Correctional Administrators, Virginia has the lowest recidivism rate in the country. Only 23 percent of people who get out of prison, go back.

"And that's still not good enough. We want them all to stay out, that's our goal. We want them to be productive citizens, we want them to have wonderful lives,” said Hodges.

Lee hopes he can help inmates start the process early, so they have an easier time adjusting to live outside prison.

"It's like brothers helping brothers. I'm just carrying on the fight,” he said.

Family members say events like this one are helpful because they can have an honest conversation with officials about the problems they've had in the past trying to get answers or help. They say there's a lot of work to be done, but these events could help fix the system, one step at a time.