[Provided by co-founder, current lead mentor, and inmate at the Pine Bluff Prison Unit, Mr. Vonnie Moore-Shabazz]
The origins of the Community-Based Reentry Initiative Program (CBRIP) began at the Arkansas Department of Corrections Varner Unit in 2003 as a Varner Unit Jaycees sponsored Community Development Project. The program was designed by a core group of Varner Unit Jaycees inmates to connect their fellow inmates to outside volunteers that had subject matter expertise in areas, such as academia, the criminal justice system, housing and finance, substance abuse counseling, and spiritual development, to help inmates leaving prison to have a better chance of staying out. The name of this program was entitled, Prisoners/Ex-Prisoners Reaching Out and Gaining Respect and Morality (The PROGRAM). When approached with the idea, the late Warden Rick Toney saw the therapeutic value in such inmate-initiated self-help programming.
In 2005, David Puckett was transferred from the Varner Unit to the Pine Bluff Unit and utilized the U.S. Department of Justices “Going Home Initiative” as a guide to design “The PROGRAM” and renamed it CBRIP. The base curriculum included six core modules with several elective classes. The Pine Bluff Unit Inmate Council sponsored the program. During this time, the late Warden Rick Toney was Warden over the Pine Bluff Unit, Diagnostic Unit and the Randall L. Williams Unit (formerly known as Jefferson County Jail Facility) that comprise the Pine Bluff Complex. In 2006 the Diagnostic Unit inmates were allowed to participate in the program. The following year Randall L. Williams inmates were allowed to participate. In July 2007, a new request was made and granted to Arkansas Department of Corrections Director Larry Norris by the late Dr. Charles Chastain and Dr. David Montague to have CBRIP Lead Mentor, Vonnie Moore-Shabazz, speak to new mentors at the Wrightsville Unit. In 2010, the Ouachita River Unit became the third Department of Corrections unit to institute the CBRIP classes under the same Board of Directors.
Original Board Members were: the late Chairman Dr. Charles Chastain of the University of Arkansas Little Rock-Criminal Justice Department, Co-Chairman Dr. David Montague University of Arkansas Little Rock-Criminal Justice Department of Mr. John Felts who in 2003 was an Arkansas Parole Board Commissioner, Former Pulaski county circuit Court Judge Marion Humphrey, Roosevelt and Audrea Rodgers of Mentor & Families Restoration Ministries, Mrs. Barbara Wilder President of the Arkansas Chapter of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Ms. Bonnie Savage of Pine Bluff Drug & Alcohol Counseling and Mr. Richard Gillespie former Vice President of Simmons Bank. Present Board Members are: Ms. Edna Ramirez (Director) of the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department, Co-chairman Dr. David Montague Dean of E-Learning, Dr. LaVerne Bell-Tolliver University of Arkansas Little Rock School of Social Work, Mr. John Felts Chairman of the Arkansas Board of Parole and Arkansas Board of Corrections Member.
In addition to all the Board Members and Program Panelists that have given their time and energy to make CBRIP what it is, the following three individuals’ contribution should be noted: The original Chairman of the Board, the late Dr. Charles Chastain; the late Warden Rick Toney; and former University of Arkansas at Little Rock Justice Chair and Board of Correction Member Dr. Mary Parker. Their belief and support of the program in its infancy stages was critical to the success of what the program is accomplishing today.
CBRIP, as earlier mentioned, had its beginnings at Varner Unit. The template of the current CBRIP was brought about by prisoners: Kip Brown, Anthony Carroll, Isaiah Dumas, Jihad Muhammad, Kurt Muhammad, David Puckett, Vonnie Moore-Shabazz, Arthur Threets and Carl Wilburn. On February 17, 2008, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Newspaper published an article on the CBRIP entitled, “Inmate for Life Helps Others: Program helps prepare prisoners to succeed when returned to society.”
CBRIP is the most sought after inmate-sponsored self-help program in the Arkansas Department of Correction. The program is available at three Department of Corrections units (Pine Bluff Complex, Wrightsville Unit, and Ouachita River Unit) with a total of five units participating under the same Board of Directors. Many prisoners write the various Classification Officers at units where the program is available from other Department of Corrections units to see if they can be transferred to the units that offer the program. Dr. David Montague conducted a study where data verified graduates of the Community-Based Reentry Initiative Program recidivate at a rate of 15% less than the Arkansas Department of Corrections overall average for inmates that did not take the program at the critical three-year mark on parole. Several of the Board Members and Program Panelists often come across program graduates of the program in society, and are often reminded that these former inmates took the program and are out on parole and or have successfully discharged their parole to become productive citizens.