Innovative efforts of PRI team recognized
In recognition of their efforts in COVA’s new Prisoner Re-entry Initiative, John Finch, Diane Linville, Doc
Hecker and Ann Heilbrunn were honored with the New Freedom Initiative Award in December.
COVA recently recognized the work of four staff members who helped establish a program to assist individuals in local correctional facilities and ex-offenders.
John Finch, Diane Linville, Doc Hecker and Ann Heilbrunn were honored in December with the New Freedom Initiative Award, given annually to individuals who implement a service that improves COVA’s ability to serve its clients and promotes it as a national leader in serving persons with disabilities.
“This group of staff were involved in developing a cutting-edge approach to reducing recidivism by using peers pre- release,” said Board of Directors Past Chair Katie Hamilton. “This is a new concept in this area – and in the nation.”
One of the programs, the Prisoner Re-entry Initiative (PRI), prepares prisoners for release. The other, the Forensic Peer Program, builds skills and creates employment opportunities that support individuals with mental illnesses who are leaving the corrections system and are at risk for recidivism.
“This is a very challenging population – a population we haven’t done a lot of work with,” said award recipient John Finch, Ph.D., COVA vice president of Rehabilitation and Employment.
Diane Linville, PRI program coordinator, and Ann Heilbrunn, career developer, both work directly with prisoners in the corrections system and bring a wealth of knowledge about how to interact and work with these individuals. Doc Hecker, forensic peer program director, has experience that is more hands-on: as a former inmate, he came to COVA with inside experience that has helped the team successfully work with prisoners.
“Without Doc, this program would still be at home plate,” John said. “I knew nothing about what it was like being in a prison situation. [Ann and Diane] had worked in prisons before, but as far as being in the prison culture, Doc knows it all.”
While John offers enthusiastic praise for his colleague, Doc is more modest about how impactful his experience has been. He admitted that at first, he didn’t think the Department of Corrections would be interested in anything he had to say.
“I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got a chance to give back and pave the way for somebody else,’” Doc said. “I had no idea it would develop into this.”