Jail project to help lead national effort

Program eases transition to community

Douglas County Sheriff Ken McGovern and Undersheriff Kenny Massey had been working for years to figure out how to prevent habitual inmates from returning to jail.

And after a bumpy two-year ride, they established a program that’s now been selected to help lead a national effort to reduce the number of inmates in America’s 3,000 jails.

“It’s going to be a win-win for everybody,” McGovern said. “We look forward to working with other agencies, giving them what we’ve done. It’s premier for this agency and this town.”

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office launched its transitional services and re-entry program in January.

Its purpose is to identify gaps that inmates face when they’re released, like the inability to find housing, jobs, health care and treatment for mental health and substance abuse.

The jail works to connect inmates with outside agencies before they’re released, so they’re less likely to revert to their old ways and return to jail.

The jail’s efforts were recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Corrections, through a search to find two jails to serve as pilot locations for implementing the Transition from Jail to Community Project.

“We would not be here in this community, if we hadn’t seen (the sheriff’s office) step up to the plate, have some vision around what this could look like and a whole lot of energy to make it happen,” said Amy Solomon, senior research associate for The Urban Institute, the Washington, D.C.-based economic and social policy research firm selected to develop the program. “We are very impressed with what we see and hear.”

The project will help determine Douglas County Jail’s re-entry program’s strengths and weaknesses and help jail officials monitor their success and find ways to improve.

Information from the two pilot locations will be used to create a transition model to be implemented in six jails in the U.S. and developed into tools that will eventually be used by jails across the country.

“The hope is that this will result in a changed way of doing business,” Solomon said. “In most jails their goal is to keep the inmate secure while they’re incarcerated, and then their job is done. This project is about having some accountability for what happens when they’re released, for preparing them for release and connecting them to community agencies, so that when they’re released, there is less crime, less recidivism, less substance abuse, more jobs, better jobs, better reconnection with families.”

In the end, national and local officials said the program should improve public safety, by helping reintegrate inmates into society.

“It’s a benefit that they don’t come back in here,” McGovern said during an interview at the jail. “This is going to work, to help those inmates become better citizens.”

The National Institute of Corrections is spending about $450,000 over 18 months to get the program into the six jails, said Kermit Humphries, correctional program specialist.

No additional local tax dollars will be spent on the implementation of the program.