Staying Out of Trouble
You see it everywhere,
from all societal demographics: citizens expressing their concerns about the
problems intrinsic to our modern penal system. Currently, well over 60 percent
of our nation's incarcerated population become repeat offenders and return to
prison. Closer to home, approximately 9,000 men and women leave prison and
settle in the greater Baltimore City area each year, with more than 8,000 moving
back to the same neighborhoods they left when sent away.
Twenty-five years ago,
while teaching a jailhouse stress-management/relaxation class, Mary Joel Davis
was approached by women asking for help with their legal problems. Davis
recognized the need for in-house legal assistance and the recidivism problems
facing those who are released from prison. Rather than simply lamenting over the
deficiencies in the penal system, Davis instead founded Alternative Directions
Incorporated (ADI), a Baltimore-based nonprofit organization, to fill the need.
ADI's original goal was
to give civil legal aid to female prisoners and prevent repeat offenses. The
work of ADI has expanded since that time to include services to male prisoners,
and ADI continues to assist all of its clients in making the difficult and
complex transition from life in prison to becoming a viable and productive
member of their respective communities. The efforts of ADI's seven staff members
are producing impressive results. In a country where the recidivism rate for
prisoners across the nation is more than 67 percent, the recidivism among ADI
clients is a remarkably low 20 percent.
According to Davis, now
ADI's Executive Director, people who have paid their debt to society generally
desire to return to their families and communities as productive citizens. To be
successful in their quest to find and retain jobs, care for any dependant
children, and live independently as tax-paying citizens, the barriers to these
important goals must be removed. Davis believes ex-prisoners cannot be expected
to become contributing members of society without, at the very least, access to
affordable housing and legitimate employment.
are a major problem for men and some women while in prison and also when coming
out. Davis says that a prisoner working within the institution makes "maybe five
dollars a week… [and is]…expected to pay child-support of 35 dollars a week."
Because of this, according to Davis, a person may leave the facility owing
"thousands of dollars…and then has to begin his regular child support. There is
no way he can do both and live."
The staff at Alternative
Directions believes the key to a successful life outside of prison is for the
prisoners to get a large part of the assistance necessary before they are
released. The ADI programs offered inside the prisons give the prisoners a
chance to begin changing their lives before they get out. ADI's extensive
services both in and out of penal facilities include civil legal assistance and
advocacy; mentoring; substance-abuse treatment; education; job-training;
parenting classes; counseling; and referrals. These programs are all designed to
ease the transition from being a prisoner to becoming a productive member of a
In the past year, ADI
has served more than 7,680 clients, with over 5,000 men and women receiving some
form of assistance with civil legal issues through ADI. Davis also started an
"Alternative to Sentencing" program for women found guilty but awaiting the
court's decision concerning their sentence. ADI volunteers work to persuade the
courts to release some of the women, if justified, into the community pending
sentencing. The volunteers communicate to judges the scope of assistance
available to these women through Alternative Directions. The program has had a
remarkable success rate, with most of the participants completing the program.
In addition, ADI provides civil legal workshops in prisons throughout Maryland.
ADI has made a concerted
effort over the years to partner with the many legal and advocacy agencies in
the area. They are currently partnered with more than 80 service agencies
throughout the community. Unfortunately, even with the effective use of
partnering, many other correctional facilities go without ADI services due to
If you would like more
information about Alternative Directions Inc., contact Jon Moseley, Director of
Volunteer Services and Community Outreach, Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland,
at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274.