Christina Melton Crain has received 4,541 letters from inmates across the state of Texas. Some have said that they’re on parole and need guidance. Others are looking for a second chance at life.
In October, an incarcerated individual at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice wrote simply to inquire about making “a successful re-entry back to society.”
And Crain has responded to every single one.
Sure, her extensive attorney experience and former position as chair of the Board of Criminal Justice more than qualifies her to properly respond to these letters. But it’s her actions while in those positions that allows her to provide these inmates with real solutions.
“I represent minor children of abuse, neglect, injuries,” said Crain, president and CEO of Unlocking DOORS. “Many of their parents have been involved or are involved in the criminal justice system. So, I kind of started to look at how the two correlated and tried to figure out if there was something we could do here that has more of a family unification/reinvesting in the community and try to do what we can for those who are willing to do it.”
Quick Facts About Unlocking doors
Unlocking DOORS works to reduce recidivism by:
- Assessing client needs by identifying general risks, measuring behavior, identifying financial eligibility for assistance, and getting a grasp of job interest and skill sets
- Creating a custom plan for clients to meet goals
- Helping clients prepare for employment through training and resources
- Monitoring the clients for up to four years or the completion of their plan
Unlocking DOORS was established in 2010 to serve as a “reentry advocate” for former inmates and their families. The organization also is a resource for the community, providing the tools necessary for all to understand the reentry process.
Texas has the second largest criminal justice system in the United States. Thousands of offenders are released from the prisons back into Texas communities annually, many not knowing where to go or who to go to. Crain, a Preston Hollow resident, compared what DOORS does to the role of a primary care physician.
Offenders go to the organization for a personal assessment. From there, DOORS will send them to the appropriate services provided by one of its 40 plus partners, such as housing, employment, substance abuse treatment and health care. They monitor and guide their clients every step of the way. It’s a unique, targeted model that has proven to reduce recidivism, or a relapse in criminal behavior.
“If we don’t guide them to the right places and make sure they get a comprehensive understanding of what they really need in order to achieve self sufficiency that’s crime free, then we’re all going to be paying for it,” Crain said. “Whether you’re a victim because they committed another crime, or your taxes go up because we need more tax dollars to pay for incarceration or supervision.”
The majority of their clientele have been in and out of prison and are finally ready to end the toxic cycle. DOORS posts an ad six times a year in the prison newsletter that spark the letters that Crain receives. Some even take it upon themselves to go online while in prison and download a client form, which automatically places them in a database.
Crain stresses the program be kept voluntary. She wants people to be there because they want to, not because they were ordered to.
“Many times offenders have learned how to work under supervision,” Crain said. “We don’t want this to be that kind of opportunity for them.”
Pamela Bryant, who met Crain while imprisoned, heard Crain speak of the benefits of the program, and it introduced her to new beginnings.
“After trying everything the streets had to offer, I said ‘Why not give Unlocking DOORS a try?’” Bryant said. “So here I am. Unlocking doors in my life to reduce recidivism.”
The organization serves as a model for other states searching for successful ways to reduce recidivism. By the end of next year, DOORS hopes to have a presence in five counties across the state.
“It’s really about giving to the people who are interested in not going back,” Crain said. “If we truly are a country of second chances, then we need to live by our words.”