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An Inmate's Second Chance: McLennan County Jail Pilots Reintegration Program

(KWTX)
Published: Jan. 3, 2017 at 8:12 PM CST
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A breakthrough program at the McLennan County jail is hoping to inspire inmates to better their lives before they are released back into society.

A partnership between McLennan County, the City of Waco, and the Heart of Texas Region Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center has spawned “McLennan County Reintegration.” The pilot program launched in November, aims to reduce recidivism; keeping criminals from relapsing and returning to jail. Together, the three stakeholders have come up with $115,000 ($35,000 each) to fund the program, but they’re hoping to save money in the long run.

"In the long-term goal of things, hopefully this will save us money by these people not returning to jail and having to house them at approximately $50 a day to keep somebody in the facility,” said Capt. Ricky Armstrong, Jail Administrator.

The program, which has been in the works since 2012, allows services to begin during incarceration, rather than waiting until release. Inmates who participate receive support with employment, housing, education, social connection, and mental health and substance use disorder treatment, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous classes. The pre-release phase provides individuals with the skills needed for successful reintegration, according to officials.

"When they sign-up they're able to obtain counseling two times a week and also able to have some 12 step support groups that come out and meet with the individuals to help them build a rapport for mentorship whenever they are released,” said Jamie Schmitt, Program Manager of the McLennan County Reintegration Program.

More than half of prisoners are rearrested within a year of their release, according to the National Institute of Justice. However, in the first month of this pilot program, ten of the twelve inmates who have been released are still participating, according to Armstrong who said it’s not all about saving money.

"If we can help somebody stay out of jail in the future by giving them a life skill or having them in AA or NA and they don't return to our facility, it helps us all,” said Armstrong.

To qualify, inmates must be part of the jail’s “trustee program,” which rewards low-risk inmates (inmates with misdemeanors like DWI’s, criminal mischief, etc.) by reducing their sentence for doing work. Inmates must also be eligible for release within 30-90 days. A handful of inmates are currently in the program, including Roger Nawara, 31, who is serving time for burglary of a vehicle and criminal trespassing.

"I've been locked up a couple times, this makes my second time,” said Nawara, a local father of three girls. "It just gets old, coming to jail and being homeless and all the other consequences that come with using."

Nawara said he wants to be better for his girls, but also for himself, and the program is helping.

"Just talking to people, the group, there's so many different options that it hast that I could use, that I could benefit from,” said Nawara. “I really want this in my heart.”

The jail was nearing the completion of the construction of three walls in the C, D, and E blocks Tuesday, which will be used to separate existing rooms within the jail to provide classroom space for the inmates who volunteer for the program.

“It takes a village,” said Schmitt. “By working in partnership with community action partners we are able to assess, plan, and implement the most effective strategies which will not only reduce recidivism, but increase public safety and help to obtain the goal of successfully assisting and supporting justice involved individuals in their transition into productive, contributing members of the McLennan County Community.”

The program is designed to last for one year but can be tailored to meet the needs of each individual inmate.