THE GOSHEN NEWS
By DAN SPALDING
GOSHEN — A wide array of people behind Elkhart County’s unique program aimed at reducing recidivism gathered Friday to celebrate some early signs of success.
County officials lauded the initial results of efforts at successfully reintegrating adult offenders back into the community.
The year-old program was launched using a nationally-recognized leadership program known as LAP — Leadership in Action Program — that brings agencies together to achieve goals through efficient, coordinated strategies. That meant bringing together representatives of eight agencies to work with various facets of police and courts.
One year into the effort, officials chose to rename the program to Elkhart County Re-entry Initiative.
The idea for the Elkhart program was sparked in part by state Rep. Wes Culver who helped organize a meeting in 2009 with the Indiana Department of Correction.
DOC oversaw a similar effort in Marion County.
“What is happening in Elkhart County is very rare and very important,” Culver said, noting that every person who ends up back in prison costs taxpayers $20,000 to $40,000 a year to incarcerate. “Because the costs are so high, the results are very beneficial. The payback is substantial and relatively quick.”
With financial support through the DOC and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, authorities embraced the concepts LAP which brings leaders to learn how to achieve “low-cost, no-cost” strategies.
While only a handful of statistics are available since the program began in late 2010, the efforts appear promising.
During a recent six-month period, the recidivism rate for former inmates from Elkhart County fell from 5.1 percent to 3.4 percent compared to one year earlier.
The arrest rate for a similar time period fell from 11.5 to 7.9 percent, according to Tina Pfeiffer, the county jail’s capacity coordinator.
Recidivism refers to offenders who end up back in the DOC while the arrest rate means they somehow ended up being arrested and placed in the county jail.
Working to improve the county’s recidivism rate is crucial because an estimated 700 inmates return to Elkhart County each year and more than 200 of those end up back in the prison system, according to Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers.
Reducing recidivism has an impact on public safety, tax dollars and a quality of life, Rogers said.
“If this was easy,” he said, “it would have been done long ago.”
Connie Caiceros, executive director of the Center for Community Justice, one of the agencies involved in the effort, said she was impressed.
“They’re actually achieving what they set out to do,” Caiceros said. “If we can all work together to create (an opportunity) where they can get jobs and find houses and we can provide support for that transition, I think that’s invaluable. I’m excited about this.”
Numerous officials said the role of transitional coaches who serve as mentors is a key component.
Caiceros said she believes some former offenders are eager to work with mentors.
She sees that when they show up at her office and ask to be involved in a community service program.
“Even before this started, I’ve seen people make efforts to make a better life,” she said. “It makes it a lot easier to have support from all of the community.”
Rogers also announced plans to launch a pilot program that will track the progress of 70 offenders in the next year to see how they fare with a handful of issues they face when adjusting to life outside of prison.
Rogers said the county successfully applied for a second grant for $5,000 through the Casey Foundation for the upcoming year.
Jennifer Gross, a representative of the Casey Foundation attended Friday’s meeting and said she believes the fact the county sought more help shows officials believe in the program.
“I’m incredibly proud to continue to support this work,” Gross said.
One aspect society tends to overlook, according to Bill Anderson, is that ex-convicts shift “from being locked up to be locked out” of opportunities for housing, education, employment and other services once they are released.
Anderson is the executive director of It’s Possible Inc., which assists former inmates.
He said he’s passionate about Elkhart County’s efforts.
“Unless you have programs like ECRI, It’s Possible Inc., and some other collaborations, it becomes impossible for them to reconnect,” Anderson said. “If you’re struggling like that, sometimes you do feel you’re better off where you came from, and that’s not what we want.”