Group's forum will define legislative goals

Most prisoners did not grow up in healthy homes, and when they're released, don't have the skills to lead productive lives, according to Chaplain Jane Foraker-Thompson.

She argues lawmakers should be aware of this and is working with other religious leaders of The Religious Alliance in Nevada to inform the Legislature.

"Roughly 80-90 percent of people who end up in prison did not come from middle-class families, where typically children learn right from wrong, personal responsibility, self-discipline, delayed gratification and the value of education," Foraker-Thompson said. "Instead, they grew up in relative poverty with one or both parents who are alcoholics and/or drug addicts.

"What they need to experience in prison in order to learn to deal with life is stiff drug addiction programs; programs that will deal with the hurts and abuses they experienced in childhood. They need help with their physical health and mental health issues as well."

The Religious Alliance in Nevada will conduct a public forum Monday to bring attention to the group's priorities for the 74th Session of the Nevada Legislature. The public is welcome.

RAIN is composed of members and activists of the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Methodist Church. For more than 10 years, they have represented the collective viewpoint of more than 500,000 members of its five Christian judicatories.

At the forefront of their interests are affordable housing and health care, prisoner re-entry programs and adequate funding of social services.

Foraker-Thompson said former prisoners need to be offered literacy programs, basic education, high school and college courses and life-skills classes to improve their knowledge and skill levels and consequently their self-esteem.

RAIN advocate Larry Struve reads all pre-legislative bills for the coming session and calls attention to RAIN members what is available.

Struve said lack of affordable housing is an issue that affects the quality of life for many residents of Nevada.

"It's not just a concern for those who don't have a place to live," Struve said. "It has a ripple effect. For those who are homeless or are in substandard housing, they call upon other services - hospitals and public assistance. If they're spending all their money on rent, there's less for food, clothing and health care."

Struve said there are 7,000-10,000 homeless in Las Vegas every day. They are in parks, neighborhoods, downtown areas.

"If they go to a hospital and can't pay for services, the cost is shifted to those who can," Struve said. "Law enforcement is also impacted by putting people into jails, which is a temporary solution. The money (for inmate care) comes out of the taxpayers' pockets."

Foraker-Thompson said ex-prisoners are overwhelmed by a society that is nothing like the one they left.

"They need help learning how to be a human being on the outside," she said. "Inmates get some (addiction) treatment in prison, partly by choice. Some do very well and take everything offered, others don't. We need a treatment center for them to go to for three to six months (after release), be under observation and adjust to society.

Other states have that. The state of Nevada needs to take responsibility for them.

"We need to stop the revolving door, but nobody does anything about it."

Struve said Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, will propose $20 million for a fund to regional coalitions for transitional housing for homeless people to get on their feet.

"RAIN wants the Legislature to focus on housing as a people problem, not an economic problem," Struve said. "There is a huge gap between the need to provide places for people to live and the funds needed to do it.

"And health care is a society problem. We're hopeful steps can be taken for some form of universal coverage. It's the same view as housing; health is God-given in the view of RAIN folks, it must be made available."

• Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at rcosta-landers@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1223.

If you go

WHO: Religious Alliance in Nevada protest march

WHAT: 2007 Legislative Forum and Action, open to the public

WHEN: 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday

WHERE: Begins First United Methodist Church, northwest corner of Division and Musser streets; proceeds Legislature, Assembly, back to FUMC

COST: $15, includes meals

CALL: 322-4564

74th session of the Nevada Legislature

Floor sessions begin at noon in both the Senate and Assembly

Track the Legislature at www.nevadapolitics.com or www.leg.state.nv.us

For information from the legislative hotline, call 684-3300 or 1 (800) 995-9080.

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