A new organization in Jacksonville will help people with a criminal record develop their skills and reintegrate into the community.
New Start Rehabilitation and Correction Services at 600 N. Clay Ave. is an organization that provides a variety of programs and resources for convicted individuals to provide them with the tools they need to become productive members of society.
Mark McFarland, one of the founders of the organization, said the organization is all about second chances.
“We’re helping offenders rehab and giving them a second chance in life,” said McFarland.
Fresh Start offers GED courses, parenting courses, drug rehabilitation, job training, business courses, other educational opportunities, counseling, Bible study, and work experience help.
The organization also has legal services that can help clear records in some cases.
“Our attorneys will work closely with the courts and probation officers to help these people get a second chance,” said McFarland.
The program also offers youth services with mentoring programs.
LeAnn Tyler, President of Fresh Start, said that each program will be designed to provide each customer with the skills they need in the community.
“These are all things you need to have a normal life,” said Tyler. “We want them to live as normal people in the regular world, not as a prison system.”
According to McFarland, Fresh Start also hopes to build community partnerships to increase the odds. He said they would like to work with local businesses to create job opportunities, as well as community leaders.
They also want to help build more positive relationships between their clients, law enforcement, and other figures of authority.
“We also want to involve the community,” said McFarland.
Part of the process will also work to remove the stigma of criminal record. Because of the stigma, McFarland said that some people are not given real second chances and this can lead to repetitive criminal behavior.
“We see a lot of people walking through the legal system and accidentally receiving a felony or misconduct conviction,” he said. “You keep going to jail. We’re trying to counter this by turning them completely around so they can be law abiding citizens forever. “
McFarland helped them develop skills, saying that not only can they have the tools they need, but the confidence too.
“When a person gets the chance, they feel good about themselves, have hope, and feel like they have an opportunity,” said McFarland.
Each client works with a coordinator who does a comprehensive assessment to determine which services or classes will benefit each client and develop a plan.
Many services will eventually be held in the former Jefferson Elementary School building at 733 N. Clay Ave. offered as soon as construction is completed.
McFarland said the program is open to anyone who has a record, regardless of the offense they committed.
“We’re trying to clean up everyone so they don’t get offended again,” said McFarland. “We all make mistakes, but we all deserve a second chance. Many people are in and out of prison because they never got a second chance, never had anyone to work with or believe in them. “