AMICUS USA, Minneapolis, Minnesota
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AMICUS partners with inmates, ex-offenders, juvenile offenders and communities to build successful lives and stronger communities.
Through innovative programming, AMICUS helps inmates and ex-offenders reshape their lives, reach their goals, and make successful transitions from prison into the community. All of the AMICUS programs are relationship-based, community-driven, culturally specific and outcome-oriented. HISTORY It started with a friendship between Judge Neil Riley and inmate Ted Herman. Riley, a corporate lawyer who became a Hennepin County judge, had been visiting inmates when he began to truly understand that the prison system was just a revolving door. During those conversations in the prison visiting room, Riley and Herman designed a program that was striking in its simplicity: connect volunteers from the community with inmates in hopes of building positive and lasting friendships. In 1967, AMICUS was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization. Beginning its work with misdemeanants at the Hennepin County Workhouse, the program changed its focus to the Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF) - Stillwater in 1968 and began working solely with felons. Through the ONE-TO-ONE program, AMICUS has matched volunteers to inmates since 1968, beginning at Stillwater and expanding to the prisons at Shakopee, Lino Lakes, and Oak Park Heights. AMICUS officially began providing transitional referral services for housing, employment and other needs in 1988, with the founding of RECONNECT. In 1995, AMICUS formed a relationship with the Minneapolis Urban League to address the changing needs of African-American inmates, especially as they were released back to the community. The RAFIKI family of programs emerged from that partnership. RAFIKI recruited African-American volunteers to visit inmates. In 1997, two new transitional programs, MEN OF RAFIKI and SISTERS HELPING SISTERS, were begun to assist African-American inmates in their goal to rejoin society as positive, connected members of their communities. In 1998, a transitional program for serious and chronic male juvenile offenders being released from MCF-Red Wing using restorative justice principles was launched. A new restorative justice-based program for female juvenile offenders was implemented in 2000. Restorative justice seeks balance and healing between the legitimate needs of the victim, the offender, and the community and promotes problem-solving for the future rather than simply assigning blame for the past. AMICUS incorporates these principles into all of our programs, whenever possible. In the fall of 2000, a pilot program was begun at MCF-Oak Park Heights to help humanize the segregation ("Seg") unit where inmates can spend many months and even years with little-to-no outside contact. Veteran ONE-TO-ONE volunteers make regular visits to Seg, visiting with several inmates for a few minutes each through their cell doors. Administration and line staff report significant improvements in these inmates' behavior and urge us to find more volunteers. While women weep as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry as they do now, I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight." -William Booth, Salvation Army founder THE NEED FOR AMICUS PROGRAMS The highest number of inmates in U.S. history - over 630,000 - will be released from our nation's prisons this year (January 2002 TIME Magazine). In Minnesota, more than 95% of all adults who have been incarcerated will return to the community. Research tells us that punishment without rehabilitation serves only to increase recidivism. Programs that counteract recidivism offer practical problem-solving life skills, include restorative justice healing whenever possible, and are based in caring, respectful relationships. According to the 2001 Commissioner's Report, the number of inmates in Minnesota prisons continues to increase at a rate of approximately 200 - 300 offenders per year. However, the programs and opportunities offered to these inmates while in the criminal justice system have continued to be reduced or cut completely. There is no doubt that get-tough-on-crime talk and action makes people feel better about crime. But AMICUS has the same goal as the get-tough faction: to reduce crime and create safer, stronger communities. The question is how you accomplish that goal, and what actually works. AMICUS believes it is imperative to help this population so that they are given every opportunity and encouragement to rebuild their lives and find constructive ways to return to the community in a positive and safe manner. Finding volunteers, donors, employers, landlords, and communities willing to work with ex-offenders as they strive to build new lives can be an uphill struggle. Every missed opportunity for socialization of the inmate and ex-offender sentences the entire community to the financially and emotionally costly cycle of crime and incarceration. AMICUS programs are based on three basic principles: * that offenders can and do change, * that spending time with caring and positive people promotes change, and * that connection to a community deters crime. The AMICUS Model is relationship-based, community-driven, culturally specific and outcome-oriented. AMICUS currently operates 5 distinct programs: ONE-TO-ONE, RECONNECT, MEN OF RAFIKI, SISTERS HELPING SISTERS, and GIRLS' RESTORATIVE JUSTICE. AMICUS also participates in other programs held in the correctional facilities, such as TRAC and Stop the Revolving Door. In addition, specially trained AMICUS volunteers visit inmates in segregation and the infirmary at MCF-Oak Park Heights.
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