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The Allegheny County Jail Collaborative has instituted programs and systems to reduce the number of former inmates who commit new crimes and return to jail. Yesterday, we looked at how addiction and criminal thinking contribute to recidivism. Today we look at the role the family can play in motivating an inmate to turn around his or her life.
Fred Thieman, former U.S. Attorney and current Buhl Foundation President, chairs the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative’s Civic Advisory Committee. It’s a group of prosecutors, community leaders, academics and foundation representatives. He said foundations support the Collaborative because they're extremely aware of what happens when individuals “carry out more crime, have more deleterious impact on neighborhoods, have more disadvantageous outcomes for their own children.”
“We can't incarcerate our way out of problems,” said Thieman. “The population the Jail Collaborative is dealing with--they're going to be released from jail.... Do we want to see them back again in 45 days or 75 days, or would we prefer to see them as productive citizens?"
Amy Kroll runs the Collaborative’s Re-entry Program at the jail. She said after inmates finish their parenting classes, they can have one-hour “contact” visits with their families once a month. They are held in a big room with toys and activities and no barriers between the parents and their children.
"Once those inmates really get to know their children...for the first time, they're seeing their children substance-free, and they have learned so much through their parenting classes,” said Kroll. “A lot of times, our family members are so caught up in their criminal life or their drug and alcohol addictions, that it takes coming in here, getting clean and then going through these visits that they realize how important they are to their children.”
“Many of these inmates have said to me, 'I'm never going back to crime', or 'I'm never going back to drugs,'" said Kroll.
One graduate of the parenting class, Darryl Coaston, was in jail for selling drugs. He’s been out for 15 months and is employed full-time. He came to realize that the money he made helped take care of his kids financially but offered no future and put both the children and himself at great risk.
Another father, James Reynolds, finished his sentence for burglary last April. He says he knew little about being a father until he took the parenting class in jail—he seldom lived with his own father and hasn’t seen his mother since he was “7 or 8.”
"I never had anything to lose before. Choices have consequences--losing my family was my biggest consequence," said Reynolds.
Reducing recidivism is not just a matter of offering classes--there were systems at the jail that contributed. Families could not call and find out about their loved ones after 3:00p.m. or on weekends—now they can. Amy Kroll says all inmates being released now go through a Discharge Center that makes sure they have proper clothing so no one leaves on a winter night in flip-flops and a T-shirt. People taking medication go home with a few days’ worth and a prescription.
Some of the government and foundation grants that pay for Allegheny County Jail Collaborative services are winding down. It’s hoped that evaluations due this year and next will show good results and that future funding will be forthcoming.