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October 25, 2011

ANDREW TOBIAS

Staff Writer

Delaware County commissioners this week accepted two federal grants worth just over $1 million that will expand a program to helpinmates stay out of the county jail once they are released.

The grants, created through the federal Second Chance Act of 2007, will among other things pay to hire four new sheriff’s office employees who will help administer the program. Delaware County was one of 118 agencies selected for the grants nationwide, with funding coming out of a $83 million pool of money.

Delaware County will have to front the $1 million, but will be reimbursed 100 percent by the U.S. Department of Justice sometime next year.

The program aims to reduce recidivism, or the rate at which people reoffend once they serve out their sentences. In what officials call the “recycling” or “revolving door” effect, many inmates who are addicted to drugs are released from jail only to begin stealing to feed their addictions.

Nationwide data shows that currently, one in two convicts re-offend, Delaware County Sheriff Walter L. Davis III said in a written statement. Sheriff’s office officials hope the program will help break the cycle of crime.

”(…)If we can keep even one inmate from returning to jail, the program will be a success,” Davis said.

The program has two components; one is inside the jail, where 24 inmates will be housed separately to go through intensive drug and alcohol treatment. To qualify for the program, the inmates must be parents of minor children.

The other part of the program is for 100 inmates and provides services ranging from mental health and substance abuse treatment to vocational training and job placement. Those services will begin when the inmates are serving their sentence and then continue once they are released.

By requiring ongoing drug treatment, as well as providing job training and placement after jail, Delaware County officials hope convicts will be less likely to reoffend.

“Part of this is not only to deal with addictions, but to reintegrate them into society and improve their families,” said Joseph Lynch, director of the Delaware County Jail. “Instead of having these people be hindrances to taxpayers, it will help them become taxpayers.”

Criminologists will oversee the program, which expands a smaller sheriff’s office program that is also funded by a federal grant, to analyze their effectiveness.

Steve Hedge, executive director of the Delaware-Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, said the new program is “encouraging” and “exciting.” Hedge sits on a task force that aims to reduce recidivism countywide.

“This is vital. This provides a lot of the resources which we currently do not have,” Hedge said.

Research has shown that similar programs in other states has helped reduce recidivism, which helps saves money in the long run, Hedge said. The grant will allow similar research to take place in Delaware County.

“I applaud the sheriff for getting these funds… when you invest a little up front it should be a lot less expensive to deal with these issues,” Hedge said.

The grants will fund the programs for two years. The Sheriff’s office will hire people with experience in social work and substance abuse counseling to assist with implementing and growing the treatment programs.