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RAP program reduces recidivism rate

Program offers to assist jail inmates as they re-enter society in an effort to reduce a return to incarceration reaches 89 percent success rate. Renee Richardson

A program to help inmates find jobs and housing before they leave jail appears to be back on track.

Last fall, the number of participating inmates in the Release Advance Planning (RAP) program dropped to three, with just one successfully entering the program. It was an about face for a program hailed as successfully helping released inmates from reoffending and returning to jail. A personnel change with Crow Wing County had a newly installed coordinator with a background in chemical dependency who discouraged inmates from using the program, steering them to halfway houses and treatment. While a majority of RAP participants have a chemical dependency or mental health issue, community services saw the program as a success and a way to keep inmates from falling through the cracks. The goal is to provide early stability so people don't re-offend and find themselves incarcerated again.

The cost of housing an inmate is about $55 per day. In 2012, the county RAP update included a cost savings of $10,000 during a three-month time frame based on inmate incarceration history. The program is an option for sentenced inmates who are Crow Wing County residents.

Glen Olsen, who coordinated the program previously and who has been an eloquent speaker for what it can do to turn a life around, was brought back to oversee it.

Nathan Bertram, community services program coordinator, and Olsen were before the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday with an update.

Twenty-three participants applied to the program between Oct. 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014. The program offers a team approach involving corrections, public health, law enforcement, prosecution and community organizations to work with an inmate to plan a successful re-entry to the community.

Eighteen inmates went through the program. Two returned to jail. The program's success rate reached 89 percent. All of the released inmates had a place to stay, half of them had a regular source of income when they were released or shortly thereafter, or were in school or treatment.

A vast majority, 89 percent, had chemical dependency issues and 83 percent were dealing with a mental illness, either currently being treated or formerly treated by a mental health professional.

Since the program started in July of 2011, 94 inmates voluntarily took part. Of those 22 returned to jail at least once for a success rate of 76.6 percent or a recidivism - return to jail - rate of 23.4 percent. The state's recidivism rate is 61 percent.

Chemical dependency and mental illness remain the biggest barriers for inmates. The county recently started a RAP support group for participants. The group meets monthly but is still working to get traction and get the word out to past participants, although transportation remains a big issue.

Bertram said he'd like to have a more intensive case management that could help with issues like transportation.

"It's hard to get out of the trench when you are down in it," Bertram said. The plan has been challenged by time constraints for staff.

Olsen said something has happened between the time when he was overseeing the program and since he was asked to facilitate it again - turnover in team participants and a significant increase in commitment from partners at Northern Pines and Lutheran Social Services.

What has been staggering, Olsen said, is the correlation between chemical dependency and people being abused as children or adults.

With more intense therapy with Northern Pines abuse counseling and chemical dependency counseling, Olsen said having a program that extends further with existing community partners is doing a better job than ever before.

In that sense, Olsen said case management is already taking place but by community partners who are working with the county with this program.

The RAP program has never been as successful or as helpful than before the current mix of people on the community team, Olsen said.

Commissioner Paul Thiede said Bertram struck out, Olsen hit a home run with his answer that the program is providing a more intense case management without a staff position for it. Thiede said if the numbers are true, the program represents a considerable cost savings.

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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