By: Katie Sobiech
Instead of seeing so many of the approximately 20,000 people who are released from prison each year go right back, they are discovering how to help them become contributing members of society.
Two major discoveries that they’ve made during this process have been that not all “help” is truly helping ex-offenders, and that ex-offenders have very specific needs in order to get back on track.
Through research, trial and error, and many years of dedicated service to this issue, SCRN is creating an awareness of what these men and women really need.
They’ve found what works, what doesn’t, and have been forming a sizable coalition within the community to support ex-offenders, making their transition back into society a success.
Creating Overview Areas
Among the things that they found help reduce recidivism is creating “overview areas” and collaborating with experts in those categories.
For example, Summit County Bridges out of Poverty is perfect to address generational poverty, The Continuum of Care to address homelessness, Kids First to address early educational needs, and the Summit Education Initiative to address “cradle to career” success – setting kids and teens on the right path throughout their growing years.
“They can give you a better understanding of homelessness (or whatever area they specialize in),” Bernie Rochfield, Executive Vice President at the Oriana House, explained.
Forming a Strong Network
“We all work together. That’s one of the exciting things with Summit County – the collaboritiveness among all the different agencies, funding sources and community agencies,” Rochfield said.
“I think the Reentry Network has really helped bridge the connection between the folks that are doing the professional corrections work, probation, parole and our agency (Oriana House) – which is kind of the lead agency in Summit County for community corrections,” Rochfield said.
As for funding these efforts so that they can continue, the United Way is changing how they distribute funds, as is a coalition of local foundations. They are now looking at the overview areas as well. Gathering all of the experts in their fields is number one in developing the best plan possible.
Realizing it’s a Community Problem
Reality is that recidivism is a community problem and it will take the entire community working together to slow down.
It’s a growing issue, but one that many, such as the Oriana House, have been working on for years to put a stop to.
“The Oriana House has grown quite a bit over the last almost 30 years. We work closely with the courts and folks coming out of prison. Many of them will transition through our residential programs,” Rochfield said.
“Ten to fifteen years ago no one really wanted to deal with the offenders. Now what’s really changed for the good is that the community realizes it really is a community issue and problem,” he continued.
What is needed, and what the SCRN hopes to become, is a one-stop-shop for all reentry needs.
They hope to follow a model that the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry has. Cuyahoga County is the largest provider of inmates in the system and has the largest number of returning citizens. Close to 7,000 people come home to Cuyahoga County every year.
With a 2 million dollar budget from the county they were able to disperse grant money and create a one-stop-shop for reentry, the North Star Reentry Center.
This is crucial for ex-offenders, as transportation is a huge issue. The services come there to work with people.
“Can you imagine about 3,500 are on adult parole authority supervision, but about 3,500 are not? They’re released directly into the community, which is why something like North Star is really important,” Terry Tribe-Johnson, Summit County Reentry Coordinator, said.
There you can get bus tickets, GED training and a variety of services.
“We would love to have something like that where Akron Urban League, Minority Behavioral Health and Greenleaf all have times there when guests can sign up and meet with them. Faith-based, non-faith based, nonprofit, government – whoever,” Tribe-Johnson said.
Working with the Oriana House
North Star hired the Oriana House staff as case managers because they are trained in Cognitive Behavioral Training and have research-based, evidence-based practices for what works in changing offender behavior.
Some are given access to a computer lab for GED prep and testing, some work through housing issues, some work on chemical dependency issues and receive treatment, community Legal Aid comes in for those with legal issues. These are all areas where people returning to the community from prison can struggle, get stuck, and up re-offending.
“Whatever the clients may need, the community comes to them,” Rochfield said.
While waiting for their permanent home, the SCRN has created their own “Pop-Up-Shop,” offering reentry resource seminars for the past 3 years at different locations on the 4th Friday of each month.
There they have a variety of helpful service providers available, including Greenleaf Family Counseling, Minority Behavioral Health, Urban Ounce of Prevention, Akron Urban League, the GED Program, InfoLine, and Akron-Summit Community Action to name a few.
“We have Huntington Bank come and they will look at people setting up bank accounts. They have amazing, individualized customer service,” Tribe-Johnson, said. “A lot of people coming home haven’t trusted banks and they’ve helped people organize their finances.”
Individual needs are met, and the right connections are made.
“I just spoke with one young woman at a reentry fair who is so anxious to get work. Anxiety is one of her big issues. She didn’t know what she needed, said she’d been clean and sober for 2 years, but had terrible anxiety and ran into depression and can’t work,” Tribe Johnson shared.
“I asked ‘Well have you worked with anyone like Portage Path?’.”
No. She had not heard of them. So Tribe-Johnson took her to meet with someone from Portage Path to get started.
“That’s where we would like to be (like North Star), because we as the Summit County Reentry Network want to go into the prison more and liaison with people,” Tribe Johnson said.
“There’s a lot already going on,” she continued. But they would like to see more.
They are working with many other groups to facilitate the liaison between the prisons, the adult parole authority, and people in the community who are providers or reentry coalitions to coordinating services and communications.
They are also on their second “Meaningful Summit” for service providers.
“We want people who are community providers to come so there’s a better sense of networking and communication in Northeast, Ohio between the prisons, the people coming home on parole, and the care givers, and providers and professionals in the community that are working with those people who come home on supervision. But also the people who don’t have supervision, probation or parole when they’re finally released,” Tribe Johnson said.
The first Meaningful Summit was held last November.
“It was the first time ever that the prison, parole and community had been invited to meet together. It was awesome. Really affective,” Tribe Johnson said.
“It was done as a prototype to copy in the other parts of the state,” she continued.
And this is just the beginning of what’s to come with the exciting work of individuals who are passionate about their jobs and calling to put a stop to recidivism in Summit County and beyond.
Watch for Part 3 on what they’ve learned that works and what doesn’t work in helping ex-offenders.