County looks to cut recidivism

MAYVILLE – County organizations involved in the re-entry and reintegration of jail inmates gathered in Mayville on Thursday to discuss both areas of progress and difficulty in their efforts to reduce recidivism.

The organizations, collectively referred to as the Chautauqua County Re-entry Task Force, were optimistic in their ability to achieve successful outcomes despite limited funding and potentially negative environmental factors.

Employment, in particular, is seen as the ultimate elixir.

“You’re 33 percent less likely to go to jail if you have a job,” said CodyAnne Weise, employment and re-entry facilitator at the county jail.

In 2013, the Chautauqua County Office of Probation was awarded the “200 Percent of Poverty Alternatives to Incarceration” grant via the Division of Criminal Justice Services. The grant seeks to reduce recidivism by fund ing re-entry and training programs to individuals with families whose income does not exceed 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

Thinking For A Change and Ready, Set, Work are two premier programs made possible by the grant, with the former addressing cognitive, behavioral and social skills and the latter addressing employment and marketing skills.

In a thorough recitation of statistics, Weise stated that 92 individuals enrolled in the “200 percent” program in 2013.

Eighty-three made it to the 30-day mark, 72 to the halfway point, 35 to the three-quarter point and 11 successfully completed the program. Of those eleven, none returned to jail.

“The 200 Percent of Poverty program is doing great things,” said Weise, who indicated that seven more individuals have graduated so far this year.

Other news included the adoption of Work For Success, a program that has brought three Department of Labor representatives – two in Jamestown, one in Dunkirk – as “offender employment specialists.”

“They reach out to employers and explain the benefits of hiring an ex-offender with the bonding and tax credits (involved),” Weise said. “More and more employers are now posting Work For Success jobs (jobs exclusively for ex-offenders) which is wonderful for our county.”

One of the main obstacles discussed at the gathering was the lack of proper identification for inmates.

“A lot of these guys don’t have their birth certificate, social security card or a photo ID … and without any of those things, (they can’t get anywhere),” Weise said.

The jail is reportedly working on a way to fix this problem by providing identification cards for its inmates, according to Weise.

Organizations attending the meeting included The Resource Center, the Mental Health Association, Chautauqua Opportunities, BOCES and others.

According to Linda Shields, county probation director, the meeting is a necessary step to not only address pertinent issues, but improve outcomes.

“We all have the same goal,” she said. “We all play a role in the community and we all need good communication. We have to work with each other and not individually.”