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Inmates embrace access to community resources

When Michael J. Scott woke up Wednesday, April 3, in his Crow Wing County jail cell he was offered the opportunity to attend a vendor fair at the jail to connect inmates with resources for transitioning to the outside world.

Crow Wing County Jail inmate Michael J. Scott Wednesday, April 3, was among 63 inmates who attended the annual jail transition fair at the jail. About 50 vendors from a myriad of services and nonprofits were in a large room to answer any questions the inmates had on transitioning out of confinement. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video
Crow Wing County Jail inmate Michael J. Scott Wednesday, April 3, was among 63 inmates who attended the annual jail transition fair at the jail. About 50 vendors from a myriad of services and nonprofits were in a large room to answer any questions the inmates had on transitioning out of confinement. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video

When Michael J. Scott woke up Wednesday, April 3, in his Crow Wing County jail cell he was offered the opportunity to attend a vendor fair at the jail to connect inmates with resources for transitioning to the outside world.

He didn't want to at first, but changed his mind and was glad he did.

The Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office jail division hosted its eighth annual transition fair for inmates. There were about 50 vendors who hosted booths at the fair, offering inmates information and answering their questions. Vendors included Lutheran Social Services, Mid-Minnesota Women's Center, Crisis Line and Referral Services, Nystrom and Associates, Northern Pines, Salem West, Bridges of Hope, Cass County Health Human and Veterans Services, Crow Wing County Community Services representatives, Tri-County Community Partnership, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and more.

Miranda Neuwirth, program sergeant in the jail division housed in the Crow Wing County Judicial Center in Brainerd, said every year the fair gets bigger and better. This year, 63 inmates attended.

"It's really great to see," Neuwirth said of the success of the fair. "This is a chance for the vendors to come in and offer their resources to our inmates, and a chance for our inmates to come in and actually see what community resources are available to them.

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"I usually do an evaluation afterwards and many of the inmates will say they never knew that that resource existed. To be able to come in here and see what actually is in the community for them is uplifting and rewarding for them to go and get help."

Crow Wing County Sheriff Scott Goddard said everyone who is in jail will eventually get out and be a part of society. The fair is just one event the county offers to assist people in jail. He said about 100 volunteers visit the jail weekly offering services to those incarceration.

"The involvement in our community is huge and we see value in that," Goddard said. "The programs we offer like today's fair really push that envelope of what we can do and what are the next steps we can take to make this better."

There are about 40 programs offered in the community, where volunteers come in and work with the inmates, including those working in the areas of mental health, alcohol and drugs, housing and parenting. Neuwirth said inmates sign up for the programs they want to take a part of, as it is all voluntary.

Neuwirth said the inmates attending the fair range from inmates who may be released tomorrow to Minnesota Department of Corrections inmates who still have many years to serve.

"Anyone who is not currently serving discipline (on lockdown) has a chance to come here," she said. "When you have programs like this everyone is more than respectful and are thankful they can be here."

After the fair, Neuwirth stated in an email: "For most, the transition fair was during their time out so it was great to see so many attend. It was more than just getting out of the cell for them. I have had great feedback from the inmates really enjoying it and not realizing how many of these resources there are for them. They were very appreciative."

Scott echoed the sentiments of other inmates interviewed who said they appreciated the fact the fair was offered to them and that people took time out of their day to speak with them.

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"I really got a lot of good information, I was surprised," Scott said. "To be honest, I really didn't want to come here. I thought it was like a scam to get money or something. ... I don't think I would have even thought about any of this unless they presented it to me."

Scott, who is from Hennepin County, said he learned a lot from the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and Fathers First programs. Scott said he is a father of five children-ages 2-13-and information on child custody and parenting tips are useful for him.

"I have twins, the 13-year-olds, so I need all the help I can get," Scott said and laughed.

Scott also visited representatives from Northern Pines. One of the women there told him she also had mental health issues, was an addict and she got clean and began mentoring others, who are in that type of situation.

"I think that is pretty cool," Scott said. "That she walked the same path I am walking and now she is giving back to the community helping others, it really intrigued me. So she gave me the mentoring program information and I'm going to try to pursue it. Hopefully one day I could be a mentor and help keep people out of here."

Marlin West, an inmate, said he thought attending the fair would be a good idea, as there is always something new to learn and "to find out information to help you keep out of places like this."

West said he was interested in learning about resources in several areas. He said it would be nice if more county jails in the state would offer this program for inmates.

Inmate Tony Case said he wasn't sure about attending the fair, but decided to check it out. Case was excited after talking to the Salvation Army representatives because they offer community service opportunities. He said he has to do 96 hours of community service through a boot camp program and he can do his community service with the Salvation Army when he is released from jail. Case said he was sentenced to serve 36 months, but with the program he is in he should be out in eight months.

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Case said he also was looking at job opportunities.

"Not sure if it will go anywhere, but it's worth a shot," he said. "We all appreciate that this (fair) is given to us."

On hand from the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army were Lt. Scott Ruse and Carole Paschelke, the family services director. They said the Salvation Army offers a variety of programs and services, including vouchers for clothing and other items at its thrift store; programs for emergency shelter and transportation; rehabilitation programs to help with addiction or repeat incarceration; counseling; and spiritual ministry and more.

Paschelke said the Salvation Army may also assist with prescription medications. She said when inmates are released, their medical coverage may have lapsed and the Salvation Army can help provide coverage until their paperwork is processed.

"This fair is a really good opportunity for them to learn about all the resources available to them before they are released from jail," Paschelke said. "This gives them a chance to meet people with the different agencies ... and a chance to build a relationship with them so when they get out they will know where to go. They will see a familiar face and they'll feel comfortable to come talk to me as they are comfortable and aware of the programs we offer."

Jill Albie and Ryan Wright represented Central Lakes College's booth. Albie said it was her first time representing the college at the fair.

"I'm anxious to see how it goes," Albie said. "This is a wonderful opportunity for inmates to visit with us and to see what is available for them."

"There are a number of individuals who come who want to make a genuine change," Wright said of the inmates who will partake in the transition fair. "And sometimes the best way to do that is to get an employable education, whether it is a certificate after two years. There are a lot of options. They are not stuck to where they are at. We are here to say here are some options that may be a great fit for you."

Sue Vanek of Nystrom and Associates-an outpatient mental health and substance use disorder clinic with 15 clinics in the state, including Baxter-said they have been a part of the transition fair for years. Staff also take part in a coordinated re-entry project that meets weekly to help offenders transition from jail to the community, and be connected to the right resources.

Vanek said Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services is a program geared for those re-entering the community. She said through the program, staff evaluate the individuals' mental health and help them through any struggles they may have, as transitioning from incarceration to the community has its own challenges.

Thomas McCullough, director of public relations of Red Wing-based Diversion Solutions, which provides innovative programs for the criminal justice system aimed at enabling offenders of criminal law to avoid criminal charges and/or a criminal record. McCullough was at the fair to promote the license reinstatement program, which was developed in 2009 to support people in reinstating their driver's license. McCullough said for those who qualify, the program allows them to drive legally while they pay their fines to the court. This is for people who have a canceled, suspended or revoked license.

People have to fill out a form to see if they qualify. McCullough said the program is not for someone who has a driving while intoxicated record or have vehicular criminal behaviors.

McCullough said the average amount of fines a person has is $2,000. This program allows the person to come up with a payment plan, all while they continue to drive to work legally.

Currently this program may be in jeopardy as it has been placed under an omnibus bill with other controversial items and needs the House's approval to continue, McCullough said.

"This program is for the working poor, whose only offense was they couldn't afford to pay for their first ticket," McCullough said. "There are 650,000 people in the state of Minnesota who have a suspended or revoked license. How many of them do you think are driving to work today? All of them are. So what happens is a cycle of poverty that happens."

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