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First 'Sister to Sister' Class Graduates at Jail

A new program is helping Northampton County Prison's female inmates re-enter society.

It's safe to say that Northampton County Prison has seen its share of tears.

But the tears that flowed Wednesday morning inside the jail's work release dining hall were those of joy, not grief.

They came from the 19 members of the prison's new "Sister to Sister" program, who had just graduated.

"It's one of the best choices I made in a long time for myself," said graduate Jennifer Johnson, whose father flew 10 hours to see the ceremony.

She and her classmates wore paper mortarboards they'd designed for the ceremony, which marked the end of a four-month class designed to reduce recidivism by helping the women re-enter society.

The prison's male inmates have had their own version of the program--it's called Future Foundations--since 2008, said Sherry Darr, one of Sister to Sister's counselors. 

Prisons are emphasizing rehabilitation as they become more overcrowded, Darr said. The program involves what's known as cognitive behavior therapy--trying to get the residents to identify errors in thinking that lead to "criminal addictive behavior," she said. 

Wednesday's graduates have different futures ahead of them, Darr said. Some will be released, some will go on parole or probation, some will enter the county work release program, and some will still have to serve sentences in state prisons, where--with luck--versions of this program will be in place.

Speaker after speaker told the graduates and their families the ceremony represents the beginning--rather than the end--of a lot of hard work.

"You need to get behind them, and help them," said deputy warden Michael Bateman, who helped bring the program to the prison. He was elated to see Wednesday's graduates. "This is like the first day of spring for me."

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