Archive for Friday, September 8, 2006

Program hopes to slow revolving door of returning inmates

September 8, 2006


Paul Jones recently finished a two-month stint behind bars. So he knows what it is like to be fresh out of jail.

Empty pockets. No wheels to get around to look for jobs. And an immediate impulse.

"It's the first thing you're looking to do when you get out," Jones said. "Get drunk. Get high."

At Douglas County Jail, the staff are aware of those impulses - and the fact that a lack of support services and direction often lead people right back behind bars.

Jail officials are working on ways to slow that revolving door and hold down the number of inmates, which has been on the increase.

Jail employees are building a plan that will involve support services for every inmate upon release, ranging from drug counseling to mental health assistance to faith-based mentoring.

This month, staff began working to reform many aspects of jail services. Their effort will touch on everything from where inmates are housed at the jail to what kind of help they receive when they exit the double doors.

"We're going to try to cover our bases with all of the inmates leaving our facility," said Undersheriff Kenny Massey, who runs jail operations for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office. "When that offender leaves our facility, we're done with them. It all has to be in place."

The program - which is in preliminary stages - will be geared to helping inmates re-enter society once they leave jail, Massey said.

A new computer system will help sort information about inmates' needs as they enter jail, Massey said. For example, if a person has a mental illness or a substance abuse problem, that fact can be documented and the information easily retrieved later, he said.

The current jail management system, installed in 1999, often traps information that jail staff need during an inmate's stay.

"We'll know what their needs are," Massey said. "We can help them much better."

Other aspects of the jail overhaul could include:

l A new housing system that would organize inmates according to their needs. The system would match inmates with services such as mental health therapy, substance abuse treatment or job training. It also would track inmates' progress.

l A mentorship program to connect inmates with a person or program that will best help them when they leave jail. This will include employment instruction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other services.

Many contracts for the assistance already are in place, such as the jail's contract with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. The new management system could cost as much as $100,000, Massey said. Money already has been set aside in the jail's budget to cover the expense.

Model jails

To learn how the program might be implemented, Massey and jail staff visited the jail in Kent County, Mich., last week to view that facility's re-entry program.

Massey also said a new system at the Sedgwick County Jail in Wichita could serve as a model.

In July, Sedgwick County began using volunteers to do exit interviews with inmates about a week before release to better assess their needs, said Capt. Glenn Kurtz with the jail there.

The Sedgwick County system also includes an on-site medical staff who provide continual physical and mental health screenings, Kurtz said. A mental health diversion program in the county gives judges the option of sentencing criminals with mental illness to time in a health facility rather than jail.

Massey said though the jails in those two counties are much larger than Douglas County's, the programs were still valid.

"We're comparing apples to oranges in that way, but as far as re-entry, we'll be right on track," he said.

Skyrocketing numbers

Massey said streamlining where inmates live will be another challenge. The number of Douglas County inmates has skyrocketed in the last few months, and unless the jail's population is scaled back, some specialized housing wings could fill up too fast.

"That's going to be a handful," Massey said. "Our population here had grown throughout the year."

For example, the jail held an average of 123 inmates last month. But during the Labor Day weekend, the jail's population topped out at 197.

With only 192 beds in the building, 18 inmates were farmed out to the Jefferson County Jail, Massey said.

Once the jail's population passes about 170 inmates, "it becomes very complex how we move inmates around in the facility to free up bed space," he said.

The plan also hinges on the community services that inmates receive inside the jail and after they leave it.

Jail staff met with a 20-member "re-entry committee" in April to discuss how to better provide services to inmates - specifically those with mental illnesses - once released from custody.

Those discussions included dropping inmates off at Bert Nash, rather than the Douglas County Law Enforcement Center at 11th and Massachusetts streets, and making sure inmates have access to medications when released.

The group will meet again Sept. 15 to further plan for the re-entry changes.

Christy Blanchard, coordinator of forensic services at Bert Nash, said she hoped the meeting would establish some concrete steps the mental health center could take to better help inmates.

The next two steps, she said, would include establishing how the center will assess inmates when they enter jail, and how inmates who are in for more than 30 days progress during their incarceration.

"We have to have something put together so we're consistent across the board," Blanchard said.

As for Jones, he said some inmates will get back on the wrong track no matter what services the jail provides. That's just the way it is.

"But yeah, the program sounds good," Jones said. "There could always be more options."


prioress 11 years, 9 months ago

"caining (sic) that will drop the amount of people going to jail" ++++++++++ Hmmmmmmmm.....BUSHCO get rid of the 8th Amendment too? Whom would Jesus 'Cane?'

Kelly Powell 11 years, 9 months ago

ther is something to be said for making punishment more open and involving the community.....a thirty day stint in relative privacy is really not much ....making that person be seen by his peers and community adds the shame factor.

erotomania 11 years, 9 months ago

How Expanding the Criminal Justice System Makes All Americans Less Secure

People look to the criminal justice system for personal security. They are rightly concerned about crime and they want to be safe. Unquestioning reliance on the system, however, creates problems of its own. The state run bureaucracy of justice consumes billions of tax dollars every year, responds poorly to victims' needs, and resists every effort at reform. In some neighborhoods, the apparatus of justice actually causes more problems than it solves.

The oversized criminal justice system siphons money that could better be spent on other civic endeavors. The nation spends $100 billion every year on crime control. Spending on corrections at the state level has increased faster than any other spending category. While new prisons are being built, schools are crumbling, highways are growing potholed, parks are left to decay, and opportunity-generating programs are being cut. These conditions breed crime in the long run (see mopping the floor while the tub overflows).

In 1980, 3% of the California state budget went to prisons while 18% went to higher education. In 1994, 8% went to prisons and 8% went to education. Between 1994 and 1995, the overrun in state corrections spending (11.1% actual increase compared to 7.1% budgeted increase) exceeded the entire increase in higher education (2.3%). (NCJC).

In many inner city neighborhoods, half of the young men are under government supervision. In the District of Columbia, nearly 15% of the young men are locked up. Young women cannot find mates, children cannot see parents, and young men cannot develop careers. The high rates of involvement are not caused by serious violent crimes, but by lesser crimes, often involving noise or drugs. Prosecuting and imprisoning such people in such high numbers destabilizes communities and robs them of human and financial resources.

Approximately 80% of the young black men under age 35 have a criminal record. Having a record makes it harder to find work, and makes it impossible to get many kinds of professional licenses. A young man arrested for disorderly conduct may be unable to become a bus driver or a barber ten years later because his record violates licensure requirements.

Maybe we shouldn't be throwing people in jail for every little thing....

Kelly Powell 11 years, 9 months ago

after a few years you can expunge misdemeanors.....but you are right, i beleive in a more work it off policy then jail time.

Kontum1972 11 years, 9 months ago

these people go back to jail because this is the only home they know...they get clothed, fed, free meds, a bed, tv....etc....then they get kicked out the street and they have lets go back to where its nice and warm....its simple...i know a guy who has spend 20 years of his life behind bars...he is in the DG Co jail and he wants to go back to Lansing where life is good....he has been in just about every jail there is in the math....

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