Rep. Hank Johnson announces $1.2M grant to help ex-offenders turn their backs on crime

Rep. Hank Johnson with Charles Sperling, alongside the Board of Directors and staff at STAND

Rep. Hank Johnson with Charles Sperling, alongside the Board of Directors and staff at STAND

LITHONIA, GACongressman Hank Johnson has just announced a $1.2 million federal grant to a metro Atlanta community-based project that is committed to helping offenders straighten out their lives.

Standing to Achieve New Directions (STAND, Inc.) will receive the award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The non-profit organization, established in 1999, provides services for ex-inmates, with an emphasis on rehabilitating former prisoners and helping repeat offenders break their cycle of crime.

“It’s absolutely critical to bridge a pathway for individuals coming out of incarceration experiences so they can successfully reintegrate into society,” says Charles Sperling, executive director and founder of STAND.

The grant monies will facilitate a new initiative, launched this month, to support about 90 newly released inmates every year over a period of three years. The scheme, which is offered on a voluntary basis, will provide a spectrum of resources and support, from behavior health services and housing to employment needs.

“STAND has a proven track record of helping former inmates turn their lives around,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), in a statement. “Encouraging people released from prison to be productive members of society not only strengthens our communities; it saves taxpayers billions of dollars.”

“These grants are a testament to a commitment by local and state leaders to address the problem, and a bipartisan consensus at the federal level about the need for smart investments in effective re-entry programs,” he adds.

Johnson, who has been an outspoken and longtime advocate for criminal justice reform, has supported the work of STAND for many years, says Sperling. “He is aware of all the work we have done in the community.”

Headquartered DeKalb County, STAND serves a predominately African-American community, with the majority of its resources used by black men “Many of those who use our services have a history of substance abuse and drug addiction,” he adds.

“It [STAND] has transformed my life,” says Anthony Rivers, 59, a University of Rochester Bachelor of Arts graduate, whose life spiraled out of control after time in prison and years of addiction.

“It’s given me stability, helped me rebuild my relationship with my family, most importantly my children and grandchildren. It’s put me in a position to be a responsible parent and husband,” he adds.

Rivers participated in a two year program eight years ago: he has been clean ever since. For the past six years he has been employed at STAND as a coordinator.

Robert Fleming, a 22-year-old Georgia native, participated in a mentoring scheme. Later STAND helped him find an intern opportunity at the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office.

“It’s an amazing opportunity if someone needs that extra guidance. It helps you find your place, your niche, and facilitates that need.”

The SAMHSA award is part of a national recidivism effort entitled Project Synergy. STAND will receive an annual grant of $430,000 for three years and will run until 2016.

STAND – based on Covington Highway in Georgia’s 4th Congressional District – is one of the metro Atlanta’s leading community-based organizations focused on HIV, domestic violence, substance abuse intervention and comprehensive re-entry services for men.

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