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Community Corrections Helps Offenders Re-Enter Society February 13, 2010

Posted by FairSentencing in : Current News , trackback

Public perception of a revolving-door justice system is countered by not-so-alarming statistics: A vast majority of offenders processed through the Washington County Community Corrections Center do not re-offend, returning to society clean and sober with a renewed sense of optimism about their future.

“I’m tired of running,” said one resident during a tour conducted for county officials Tuesday.

“Before, I thought ‘the first chance I get, I’m running,’” the young man continued. “I don’t have that desire anymore.”

With structure and accountability achieved through a group dynamic, the treatment and transition programs at the center make him feel like positive change is possible. Many offenders like him elect to extend their required sentences to complete one of the center’s transitional programs.

“I will always have the desire to use (drugs and alcohol), but now I have the tools to turn that off,” he said. “I thank you guys for giving me that chance.”

Of 2,026 offenders housed in the center between January and December 2008, 89 percent completed required programs, said Director John Hartner.

Many offenders eventually find themselves in the center’s transitional drug and alcohol treatment programs. Since 2001, the county contracts with several agencies to staff the Recovery Mentor Program, which helps take residents through the steps of rejoining the community — finding jobs and housing, maintaining healthy relationships and fulfilling ongoing commitments. Many of the mentors are people who have had drug and alcohol problems themselves, and have been in the criminal justice system as a result. To be hired, they must have two years of sobriety, and receive ongoing professional and ethical training.

It is generally accepted that to succeed in recovery, addicts need a clean and sober place to live, and an individual with like experiences to show them the ropes, Hartner said.

“They’re really a very effective bridge in this transition process,” Hartner said. Mentors also benefit from the experience.

“It’s really helpful for people in recovery to continue to help other people in recovery,” he said.

Of 283 offenders in the Recovery Mentor Program in 2008, about 90 percent are now in stable housing, employed, financially self-supporting and attending continuing support groups and required treatment.

Community Corrections, supported by an annual budget of $15 million and staffed by 106 full-time-equivalent positions, is responsible for providing probation, parole, post-prison supervision and residential services to the adult offender population.

All community corrections residents are assigned to a counselor and a case plan is developed to fit residents’ needs while addressing their terms of probation. Residents are offered support with their transition and there is always structure and accountability.

Evidence-based treatment practices include family participation, role playing, therapeutic movement and anger management.

“Anger management is a way to address their impulsivity,” says center Manager Karleigh Mollahan. “Impulsivity is a big factor in recidivism.”

Other in-house programs include mental health services, wellness and nutrition and life skills training for employment, parenting, computer literacy and fellowship. Treating the whole person leads to changes in behavior, said another resident.

“We become a community inside,” he said. “That translates to being a part of the community on the outside.”

Rules are strictly enforced for 277 residents who later move into any of 38 transitional clean and sober housing facilities throughout the county. Subsidies help with initial expenses, but then residents are expected to pay their own way.

Some of the transitional houses use paid employees to monitor residents, while others elect their own officers, but there’s continuing accountability, Hartner said.



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