Inmate-led mentorship program focuses on safety, restoration for 'short-stay' population

The inmate-designed program will help Florida Department of Corrections' inmates with short sentences prepare for successful rehabilitation


By FDC Office of Communications 

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) receives approximately 7,000 inmates annually with less than a year left to serve on their sentence. These inmates are a particularly vulnerable population – many never really fit in, they are more easily manipulated, are more susceptible to assault, and often leave prison with the worst experience of their lives. More than half of these inmates will return to prison after reoffending, many for much longer sentences.

With a mentoring program new to the agency, FDC is approaching this “short-stay” inmate population differently. Plans are to house inmates with less than a year to serve at consolidated locations for their entire sentence, relatively close to home and with inmate “mentors” who are typically serving longer sentences. There, they will have the opportunity to participate in education and the mentorship program specifically focused on this group. The goal is to best prepare them for restoration to their communities, hopefully never to return.

FDC Secretary Mark Inch addresses the inmate mentors who must be willing to dedicate their remaining time to developing and implementing the program.
FDC Secretary Mark Inch addresses the inmate mentors who must be willing to dedicate their remaining time to developing and implementing the program. (Florida Department of Corrections)

“Inmates with short sentences are often unable to participate in long-term betterment programs,” said FDC Secretary Mark Inch. “But there are thousands of inmates with longer sentences with wisdom and experience to share with these individuals. This program will pair longer sentence inmates as mentors with those in prison who need guidance at a critically important junction in their lives.”

Inmate mentor selection

FDC programs and re-entry staff looked no further than within the FDC system, which houses approximately 90,000 inmates. Inmate mentors must be willing to dedicate their remaining time to developing and implementing this program and collaborate well with correctional officers and programs staff specifically assigned to monitor the new units.

“FDC security, education and substance use treatment staff will play an integral role in the success of this mentoring program,” said FDC Director of Office of Programs and Re-Entry Patrick Mahoney. “This program will create opportunities for enhanced cooperation and positive choices.”

While some inmates choose to continue a criminal lifestyle while incarcerated, corrections professionals also see a great number of inmates who want nothing to do with violence, even if violence was once prevalent in their life. Following a message and call to action by Secretary Mark Inch, hundreds of inmates applied to be a part of the curriculum development team for this groundbreaking mentorship program.

Each one was carefully vetted at the institution by their assigned classification officers, then approved or removed from consideration. Selected inmates were considered by their respective wardens, regional directors and program administrators. Ten participants from across the state, with diverse backgrounds and sentence lengths, were ultimately selected to become the lead design team.

Eight male and two female inmates with diverse backgrounds were selected to participate in a week-long design workshop, facilitated by the FDC program, classification and security staff, to lay the groundwork for new mentorship academies. These academies will train additional inmate mentors and security staff to create mentoring communities at five short-stay correctional institutions developed by FDC.

The inmates participated in a week-long design workshop to lay the groundwork for new mentorship academies.
The inmates participated in a week-long design workshop to lay the groundwork for new mentorship academies. (Florida Department of Corrections)

To accomplish this, all 10 inmates were brought together with the eight males residing at an institution located directly adjacent to a female institution. The two female inmates were transported to the male institution each day during the planning stages to meet in the general visitation area.

The design team combined experiential learning, role-modeling and instruction to positively influence inmates with short prison sentences. The innovative program opens a new path for rehabilitation and restoration.

Secretary Inch said, “We concluded that the best solution, the best program, will come with inmate participation. We believe that if given the opportunity, enough inmates will step forward to help build this program and serve as mentors for this challenging group of young inmates cycling through our system. These first 10 men and women will help design the training program for the mentors and will be key in training the mentorship cadre and getting this program up and running.”

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