The History of Virginia CARES
Virginia CARES (Community Action Re-Entry System) is a heralded, statewide network of Community Action Agenies (CAAs) formed to address the successful reentry and de-institutionalization of felons in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The agency presently operates pre-release programs in 15 prisons and 11 regional and local jails, as well as post-release programs in 43 Virginia localities, which receive the largest numbers of parolees. Since 1981 Virginia CARES has worked with more than 70,000 felons with a proven record of recidivist reduction.
Virginia CARES began as a joint program of Roanoke-based community action agency formerly known as Total Action Against Poverty (now known as Total Action for Progress – TAP), and the local Department of Social Services (DSS) – Vocational Rehabilitation program.
In 1976-1979 StopGap Jobs, a temporary employment program to acclimate those with three or more years of prison to the world of work and responsibility, posted an 87% work placement record.
In 1978, the first Pre-release Program was conducted at Botetourt Correctional Unit #25.
By 1980, TAP had developed the Virginia CARES program, incorporating pre- and post-release elements with behavioral training and peer support.
On January 1, 1981, Virginia CARES was born.
2009-2010 saw the fruition of Virginia CARES’ Temporary Employment Programs (TEP). Virginia CARES’ rights restoration activities also bloomed in 2009-2010, with the program leading two rights restoration advocacy events.
In 2011, Governor Bob McDonnell asked Virginia CARES to join a task force, Virginia Juvenile and Prisoner Reentry Council, to look at ways to improve the offender’s reintegration back into the community upon release.
During 2011-2013, Virginia CARES continue to work hard on the restoration of rights efforts in Virginia. In a historic move in July of 2013, Governor Bob McDonnell announced the automatic restoration of rights on an individual basis by his office for non-violent offenders who had completed all phases of their sentence and paid all fines, court costs and restitution.
In a pilot recidivism study done for FY 11-12 for the service delivery site at Total Action for Poverty (TAP) in Roanoke, Virginia, the Virginia CARES program had a 7% recidivism (reconviction) rate, with a 1% unknown rate, compared to the State of Virginia’s 28.3% recidivism rate for the same period.
In FY 13-14 a follow-up was done of the Virginia CARES participants that came through the program during fiscal year 11-12 and the CARES agency-wide recidivism rate for those individuals involved in the program was 14%, well below the Virginia recidivism rate of 29% and the national rate of 47% for the same period. There was a 9% “unknown” factor for the same time period.
In April of 2015, Governor McAuliffe announced changes to the Commonwealth’s restoration of rights policies that made the process more transparent and reduced the waiting period for offenders with more serious offenses to have their rights automatically restored. By July of 2014, his administration had restored the voting rights of more than 2,500 Virginians.
Also during FY 14-15, Virginia CARES strengthened the efforts to pass “Ban the Box” legislation. This legislation would require that the box than an individual checks on an employment application indicating that they had been convicted of a felony would be removed. In April of 2015, Governor McAuliffe signed an executive order that “banned the box” on applications for state government jobs.
Effective July 1, 2015, Virginia CARES funded six subcontracted programs that provide services at eight independent locations in the Commonwealth. Today, Virginia CARES is a $1.2 million agency with an administrative staff of six full-time staff, a statewide staff of 14 full-time and 6 part-time employees.