According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than half of released prisoners will return to prison within three years. To combat this issue, TORI, a non-profit organization led by Bishop T.D. Jakes, offers comprehensive services in several areas including employment coaching, housing, financial literacy, substance abuse counseling, family reunification and spiritual chaplaincy. The year-long program honored 150 men and women graduating from the class last weekend at The Potter’s House in Dallas. Representatives from the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, The White House Office for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Texas Department of Corrections joined the event to support the participants. Food Network star Jeff Henderson, who served 10 years in prison for a drug conviction and is now host of the “Chef Jeff Project,” served as the keynote speaker. Bishop Jakes spoke to ESSENCE.com about the importance of the year-long program, how it can positively affect a convict’s life, and the graduation ceremony last weekend. ESSENCE.com: What is the effectiveness of TORI? BISHOP T.D. JAKES: TORI has had unparalleled success, and I believe it is because we employ both spiritual and practical principles in the rehabilitation of ex-offenders. We’re very excited because we believe this program has made a remarkable difference in reducing the rate of recidivism, and because of its effectiveness, it is gaining national attention. ESSENCE.com: Why is the graduation so significant? BISHOP JAKES: The commencement is a big accomplishment for many of the graduates. For some, this is the first time they have ever been celebrated in their lives, and they are proud to have reached this milestone. This achievement serves to boost self-assurance and re-energize confidence in order to prevent them from having further encounters with the judicial system. ESSENCE.com: Describe the TORI program. BISHOP JAKES: A large number of ex-offenders who enter communities from prison lack the adequate skills required for them to succeed outside of the prison walls. By offering comprehensive programming, we have found that the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative is an effective way to stem the tide of re-incarceration. The goal of TORI is to prepare former offenders to successfully reintegrate into their communities by equipping them with everything from education and counseling to job training and spiritual guidance, and with this year’s large group of graduates, we are obviously moving closer to that goal. ESSENCE.com: Hallie Miller said that entering the TORI program was the first time that she was treated with respect as an ex-offender. How does it make you feel hearing that the program was so impactful? BISHOP JAKES: Knowing that the program has made such a positive impact on former offenders warms my heart. I believe in second chances, and it is because of programs such as the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative, that people are given that opportunity. Read more:
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