CHEYENNE, Wyo. — State officials are hoping a program that eases inmates into freedom will keep the public safe and reduce prison costs.
Called “Transition from Prison to Community,” it is focused on reducing return trips through the justice system.
“We’re hoping for a reduction in recidivism and a lower incarceration rate. That ultimately saves the state money,” said Kayla Opdahl with the state Department of Corrections.
“We look at it as it’s going to end the cycle of offenders constantly coming in and wasting funding and services.”
The program has been in place since November 2009. Opdahl said the first two years focused on internal efforts at the department, like improving the hiring process for employees.
They also worked on transition plans for inmates so they would be prepared for their release from prison.
The plans include building risumis, finding housing and teaching inmates about new technology that developed while they were behind bars.
Opdahl said another facet is having the inmates involved with their own re-entry planning.
“They have an obligation to fill out a re-entry checklist saying where they’ve gone and where they want to go,” she tells the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (http://bit.ly/XSJvlF).
Once the internal changes were made, the focus shifted outward.
In November 2011, the Statewide Re-entry Task Force was established. It is a committee of state and community leaders as well as several groups that focus on areas like housing and treatment.
Transition program coordinator Christy Hahn said there are about 65 people in the groups who work in professions like victim’s services, workforce services and nonprofits.
“We even have an ex-offender,” she said. “It’s a really nice mix n not one group has all the same people.”
Task force members are starting to implement recommendations like resource fairs at prisons, where inmates can talk to community providers.
Another program is transitional housing for sex offenders. Currently, that does not exist in the state, said Kristy Oster with the corrections department.
Most inmates who are released move to homeless shelters, motels with a high rate of alcohol and drug use or apartments near families.
“People hate sex offenses, and I completely understand,” Oster said. “As a defense mechanism, we put up barriers to let people in society know that we’re tough on crime. But we’re making it so difficult to find housing that we’re putting them at greater risk to re-offend.”
Task force members are working on houses in Cheyenne and Casper where three or more sex offenders who have been through an inpatient treatment program in prison would live and pay rent.
Oster said it would be a yearlong program that involves intensive supervision, counseling and treatment.
“They would have very limited access to the community other than treatment and parole requirements,” she said.
Oster said the program would make it easier for sex offenders to find housing while holding them accountable.
Task force members will work on implementing transitional housing and other programs from now until November. They also are working on ways to keep the programs continuing.
Hahn said task force members will then decide if they want to continue or change anything.
She said members have worked hard to solve the problem of transition for inmates, and that helps everyone in the state.
“It makes the community safer, which means fewer victims,” she said. “It also means offenders are given support and connections in community.”