Clark County Coalition cuts return offender rate, saves tax dollars

Clark County is investing more money into helping inmates develop job, social skills.

By the numbers

Clark County Commissioners funding for re-entry programs

$100,000 — 2015

$108,000 — 2014

$25,000 — 2013

Clark County Re-entry Coalition has received about $3 million in state and federal grants and more than $200,000 from county commissioners in recent years to reduce recidivism among ex-offenders.

The investment is needed, county officials say, to slow the drain on tax dollars spent on the criminal justice system as well as the cost of feeding and housing repeat offenders in state prisons and county jails.

“The real cost of keeping someone incarcerated is about $125 per day. There’s so many other costs associated with incarceration, their medical costs, the labor cost of deputies,” said Sheriff Gene Kelly, who is part of the coalition.

The goal five years ago for the re-entry task force was to cut in half the number of inmates who re-offend.

The recidivism rate for those returning to state prisons is 28 percent, down from 47 percent, said Bob Mims, director of re-entry services for Clark County.

The high recidivism rate helped Opportunities for Individual Change (OIC) of Clark County’s Re-Entry Coalition obtain more than $3 million in state and federal grants, funding from the county commissioners and other organizations in recent years to develop programs to reduce barriers for those struggling to reintegrate into the community after release.

“The good news is that we got the big (federal) grant. It was for a two year period. It was for about $700,000 a year. The bad news is that we needed it. We were able to show the numbers in Clark County of people coming back from state penitentiaries and also our county jail,” OIC Director Mike Calabrese said.

Incarceration decline

There has also been a 30.7 percent drop in the number of Clark County Jail inmates since 2010, about 50 percent of whom were repeat offenders, said Brad Andringa, OIC re-entry coordinator.

Clark County Commissioners have provided about $233,000 toward the program since 2013.

Commissioner David Herier, who is a co-chair on the coalition, said when an individual is sent to jail or prison it impacts families and costs the county.

He said re-entry is a project that commissioners should continue to support.

“It’s an investment in the community that I think is necessary and proper and some of the best returns we’ve got for an investment to attempt to keep folks out of that system that is very costly in terms of dollars and families,” Herier said.

He said when a family member is in and out of jail it makes the rest of the family reliant on public assistance. There is also the costs to the judicial system including the costs for court and for housing prisoners in jail.

“There’s reasons to do it to help people, but there’s also reasons to do it because it’s one of the most costly parts of county government,” Herier said.

Calabrese said it’s tough to track the recidivism rate because many of the clients they work with are transient, but the decline of inmates at the Clark County Jail are a sign that efforts by the re-entry coalition programs are working.

Andringa said the county jail averaged 254 inmates in 2010 and the average number of inmates now has dropped to 185.

Re-entry programs

Calabrese said re-entry programming in the county jail such as Thinking for a Change has helped inmates.

Thinking for a Change (T4C) is a cognitive–behavioral therapy program that includes cognitive restructuring or learning to identify and dispute irrational thinking or over generalizations, social skills development, and the development of problem-solving skills.

It is divided into 25 lessons with each lasting approximately one to two hours.

“It teaches people that bad behavior produces bad results. Changing that produces good results,” Calabrese said.

Ex-offenders are also paired with mentors, provided job training and the coalition has seen benefits from a recent study that evaluated Clark County Jail inmates, Mims said.

In honor of National Re-entry week, this week, the coalition will host an awards ceremony at 9:30 a.m. April 27 at a Clark County Commission meeting. The ceremony will recognize the success of program participants who have turned their lives around as well as others who have championed the cause.

OIC client, Kim, who declined to use her last name, was released from the Ohio Reformatory for Women in 2011. She is among five people who will be honored.

She said before she was released from prison, Mims and his staff helped her with her resume and interviewing skills. They also helped her find housing through a mentoring program, helped her pay her first month’s rent and find a part-time job.

Kim now has a bachelor’s degree in social work and is expected to receive her master’s degree this month.

“(OIC) helped me every step of the way,” she said.

Calabrese said two recent $50,000 contracts from county commissioners will help pay for a Clark County Re-entry Coordinator position and fund a full-time therapist to teach cognitive behavioral therapy in the county jail.

The Mental Health & Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties has also recently approved $50,000 for the coalition and the OIC board of directors has provided $60,000 for the coalition.

Coalition support

Clark County Democratic Party Chair David Hartley urged county officials to fund the program in 2013.

Hartley said funding re-entry is cheaper than the cost of prosecuting and housing inmates and also benefits the community.

“I think it’s important to put people back in society, have them pay taxes rather than supporting them while they’re either in prison or the jail,” Hartley said.

Springfield Police Chief Stephen Moody said the re-entry coalition has had success and applauded Mims, specifically, for his work with inmates and their families.

He said Mims and others help inmates navigate issues they will face when they are released such as child support, mental health issues, getting a valid driver’s license.

“It allows them to deal with an escape from a negative thought patterns and the destructive behaviors that have got them where they are in the first place. It takes work. It’s not an easy fix,” Moody said.

Moody said his department has seen a noticeable difference in the coalition’s efforts to reduce recidivism.

He said the impact is on repeat calls for law enforcement services, mental health services, as well as on families.

“It’s a total community problem,” Moody said.

Kelly said the coalition along with other efforts in the area have helped reduce crime in the county.

Kelly said the number of inmates booked in the jail has dropped more than 10 percent since 2012 to 3,874, the lowest in the last 29 years since Kelly became sheriff.

The jail was built for 174 inmates, but the average daily population in 2007 was at 259, a record number. But as of last year, the average daily population was 202.77.

Kelly said programs such as cogitative behavioral therapy, the Fatherhood Initiative, mental health counseling, as well an effort that transport inmates to McKinley Hall to get Vivitrol, which helps curb cravings for opiates.

“We’re trying to send people out better than when they came in,” Kelly said.

He said prisons and jails have transformed from being warehouses or “timeouts” for inmates to being places where they can get help while serving their sentence.

“It doesn’t have to be like that. They can be places of productive time and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Kelly said. “… What we’re trying to do here is fix the person as much as we can … the person has to want to make a change, but if they do everything we have here we’ll help them accomplish that and by doing that we’re saving dollars.”

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