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Colorado Website Aimed At Helping Former Inmates

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DENVER (AP) – Former inmates will learn how to find jobs, housing, and even how to use a computer after years of being locked up, under a new educational website Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia promoted Tuesday as a reintegration tool.

Garcia said an estimated 900 inmates are released monthly from Colorado prisons, and many don’t have the help they need to succeed.

“For many of these men and women who’ve been away for a number of years, they’ve never used a cellphone. Perhaps they’ve never used a computer or the Internet,” said Garcia, who is also the state’s executive director of the Department of Higher Education. “And yet we want them to be successful, to find work, to get bank accounts, to sign leases. Some just don’t have any experience doing that.”

The website, “Own Your Future,” was developed during 18 months with advice from current and former inmates, educators and corrections officials. The website is free and also includes guidance on how to use a computer.

On the website, recently released offenders will be able to find programs that are available in their communities to help them with life after prison. The site will show housing options, how to complete high school if they need to, and give information on financial aid for furthering their education. They’ll also receive guidance on how to manage their finances and use public transportation.

The site was created by College In Colorado, an initiative under Garcia’s department that provides information for students and family about planning for college. Grant money was used for the effort.

Seth Lee, 40, who was released from prison three years ago, said former inmates want to feel independent when they return to society. Convicted of second-degree murder in 1998, Lee said he knows what it’s like to be released to a new world after years away. Lee had never used a cellphone.

“I had no idea, and the idea of approaching a computer and trying to navigate my way through this mythological Internet that I had heard about for years and years and years was scary,” he said Tuesday at the news conference.

Lee is now working as a welder and living with his family. Although he benefited from a separate integration program, he said he believes the website can help people like him who want to rebuild their lives.

“For so many of us, we feel very daunted by the task ahead of us.”

The website has been around since April, but developers have been ironing out kinks. Outreach efforts to promote the website started Tuesday. Posters will be distributed to workforce centers, libraries, churches, and to probation and parole officers.

The website has been dedicated to former Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements, who was known for his efforts to help inmates succeed and reduce recidivism. Clements was fatally shot at his home in March. A former inmate is the lone suspect in his death.

LINK: Own Your Future

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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