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Press Release

Former Prisoners Thankful for CARE Court and Lessons it Taught Them

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Florida

About 25 percent of released prisoners in Florida end up reoffending. The transition from incarceration to the community is full of challenges and unanticipated impediments. That's where a Court-Assisted Re-Entry (CARE) Initiative can help—by teaching former prisoners different ways of thinking so they don't fall back into bad habits.

One such CARE Court program is found in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida. It is designed to help moderate to high-risk returning citizens navigate barriers like employment, housing, education, substance abuse, medical and mental health care, reuniting with family, and social networks.

"When I got out of prison, everything detoured when I came back to the free world," said a CARE Court graduate. "It was rough. It's easy to blame others for your mistakes. I'm very thankful for CARE Court."

CARE Court also teaches participants life skills and illustrates the power of choices.

"It taught me how to be honest," said a second CARE Court graduate. "It also taught me how to help people. When you take on a responsibility like this, it motivates you to stay on the path. My journey doesn't stop. It will continue beyond this."

At a recent graduation ceremony for successful CARE Court participants, mentors beamed with pride as graduates spoke about their journeys to those in attendance.

“We, the CARE Court team, are ridiculously proud of all you’ve accomplished and I hope that one day you will come back and share your experiences with future CARE Court participants,” said Judge Kathleen Williams of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Several of those in attendance were former graduates there to pay it forward and provide a guiding hand to those currently in the program. One thing they all shared was the realization that reintegration into society is really difficult.

"I got out of confinement 16 months ago," said another program graduate. "It was tough reintegrating. I figured I'd get a job pretty easily, but it wasn't easy at all."

Instead, he entered the Miami-Dade College culinary program.

"CARE Court steered me in the right direction," he said. "The culinary class was full, but CARE Court was able to make sure I was admitted. They helped me a lot, but it's tough. They hold you accountable. They stay on you."

It takes at least a year to complete the program, which uses Moral Reconation Therapy. This focuses on enhanced moral reasoning, better decision making, and more appropriate behavior.

Melissa Fife, a Senior United States Probation Officer with five years of CARE Court experience, has seen amazing growth and transformations made by participants.

"It's inspiring to see how much progress they can make," said Fife. "They learn to slow down and process their decision making. They explore their options and think of how their decisions affect other people. They gain much more than they realize. I've had people tell me they didn't think they needed help until they received it."

Sometimes all one needs is a little assistance.

“We should do everything we can to invest in the people who need it most,” said Juan Antonio Gonzalez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “And that’s exactly what CARE Court is … an investment.” 

CARE Court is a voluntary program. The history of a returning citizen is reviewed to see if he or she would be a viable candidate. That individual then observes a CARE Court session and meets with current participants. It takes a serious commitment to graduate CARE Court, but after listening to recent graduates speak, it seems well worth the effort.

“CARE Court is the best kept secret in the Southern District of Florida for returning citizens recently released from prison and on federal supervision," said J.D. Smith, Chief of law Enforcement Coordination and Community Outreach Section, United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of Florida. "It helps empower those who have paid their debts to society with the skills and opportunities to change their lives for the better."

Judge Kathleen Williams of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida expresses how proud she is of the latest CARE Court graduates during a recent ceremony.

Judge Kathleen Williams of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida expresses how proud she is of the latest CARE Court graduates during a recent ceremony. CARE Court works to make the transition from incarceration to freedom an easier journey.



Public Affairs Unit
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

Updated October 11, 2022

Community Outreach