Compass: Prison and Reentering Society

(horn music) – [Announcer] The following
program is a production of Pioneer Public Television. (mellow music) (upbeat music) – Hello and welcome to Compass. This week we look at what
happens in local jails to help inmates get ready
to leave incarceration and build a better life so
they will stay out of jail. It’s a tough job that we
don’t hear much about, but we have two guests who
know who to do that job. Carrie Brightman is the reentry navigator with the PACT 4 Families Collaborative in Willmar, Minnesota. And Eliot Johnson is the Program Director for the Renville County
Jail in Olivia, Minnesota. So, Carrie, Eliot, thanks
for joining us on Compass. – Thanks for having me. – There are so many
things we could talk about because this is an area that is, I think, one that’s not familiar to so many people. But I’d like to start with Carrie. Tell us about the PACT
4 Families Collaborative and your job there. – So PACT 4 Families Collaborative is an organization that
provides a multiple amount of services to community members out of the five county area that we cover, Meeker, McLeod, Kandiyohi,
Renville and Yellow Medicine Counties is what we cover. The Reentry Ready Program
provides services for folks who are coming out of incarceration, whether it’s prison or jail,
as well as treatment centers. And we try to fill the gaps
in services that are lacking. So my main focus is to
reduce recidivism rates by helping folks become productive and successful members of society. Helping them face the barriers
that are very, very common, which include employment,
transportation, housing, family reintegration, and
that’s just to name a few. – All of the things that they
would need to be successful because again as we said, the
idea is what can an inmate look forward to in a
way the would help them to be less likely to recommit. – [Carrie] Right. – Yeah. And Eliot, the job of
program director in a jail, that’s something I
suppose that many people don’t even know exists,
but this is what you do. – Yeah. The title program director,
each county is very different, if they do even have a program director. Your larger counties
and medium size counties I would guess would
have a program director. My job is specifically in Renville County is I manage all the
programs within the jails so that would be anger
management, parenting classes, GED, chemical dependency treatment, just to name a few that we have. I also do a lot with the
inmates’ reentry into society so, I work in a jail so access to
other parts of the government is somewhat difficult at
times because we are behind steel doors and not many
people know what happens inside of a jail. So for an inmate to even
go over to human services, that’s a process in itself. Or for an inmate to go
over to the Salvation Army or talk with Public Health,
that’s where I come in and I try to bridge the
gaps for the inmate. I try to create a communication so they can fill out all
the necessary paperwork. Also, we do quite a bit
with treatment aspects. I help them get set up
with Rural 25’s contact, necessary counties. Rural 25 would be an assessment for their chemical dependency. I also meet with each
inmate and try to figure out what basic needs they have as
soon as they get into jail. I wanna know what’s the
best way to prevent you from ever coming back
to jail is essentially the conversation I’m gonna
have with that person. – And I know in some
discussions we had before we started recording, you’d
said there’s some things that work and some things that don’t. And one of the most
important things you said you found in your current
setting is the attitude toward the inmate. Tell us about that. – So our jail is fairly
well-known in the small group of people that know about jails. We have a different style of
approach with our inmates. Punishment isn’t something that has ever been proven to work. Specifically with inmates, how is that making them a better person at the end of the day if
I were to lock them down? Whereas I could do
alternatives to punishment. An outburst in anger is
clearly an issue with anger. I wanna resolve the
issue by addressing that. That’s where the anger
management program would come in. You give them the option of
doing, well, would you rather be locked down and do that
or would you rather attend anger management classes in lieu of that? That way I’m actually not
only solving the one problem I encounter, but also the other
problems I might encounter as well as problems outside of jail. That same person might have
been charged with assault or terroristic threats, things like that. If they find the answer inside a jail, then there’s a possibility
of ending on aspect of their. – Sure. – Challenges. – Yeah, their challenges
and their criminal behavior. – So Carrie, of course,
you see this in a number of different settings
because you work regionally on some of these issues,
so what do you think of the things that we really
need to do as a society to be better at this? – Well, first of all I
think when you face barriers as a felon with employment
because of our laws that are established, it
makes it very challenging to secure housing and maintain housing. And then when you’re
lacking transportation due to to many different aspects. One of the first things that
I think of is many times parents fall behind on
child support, for example, and then they face a repercussion of losing their driver’s
license and then can’t travel to get to work or maintain
their job or whatever. And so I think it’s
multifaceted, to be quite honest. And like Eliot said, if you
help them face the barriers and get the resources
that they need to overcome those barriers, I think that is huge. Most of the time they don’t
have someone to connect to to help them connect to
resources or you be the resource for them and help guide
them through these things. So they face societal judgment as is it, and then on top of that, because
of the laws and guidelines that are created, it makes
it even more challenging for them to become successful
members of society. And I think a lot of times
their issues are overlooked. Many, many times I would
say almost 90 plus percent we’re looking at folks who
have faced adverse childhood experiences, ACEs, I’m
sure you’ve heard of that and it affects them throughout
the rest of their life at times and mental
health, substance abuse. Folks that are being
incarcerated for substance abuse, if we dig deep enough,
find out what they need to overcome that instead of
continuing to incarcerate. I think that’s another
very important thing that we could do differently. – Right, and of course as
we talk about the rates of repeat offenders or
recidivism as the short term is, now there are some national
numbers on what those rates are and there also some differences
I know between let’s say national averages and what
rural Minnesota may have. Carrie, we were talking
about this earlier too. – Right. So Minnesota’s recidivism
rates are about 37 to 40%, it kind of fluctuates a little bit. Nationally, you’re looking at around 68%. – So in other words, if
I could jump in there, so what we’re talking about
is a rate of after someone has committed a crime
and been incarcerated, then what happens is there’s
37% of them, you know. – Once they’re released, 37 to
40% in the State of Minnesota will return back to
incarceration within three years. If they aren’t returned
back to incarceration within three years because of
a violation or another crime, then the rates go higher at four years, six years, nine years. It just continues to rise. And regionally, we have
an incarceration rate that’s 2.9% higher than the state average. – So regionally meaning the
rural counties of Western, Southwestern Minnesota. – Correct. – Okay. – Yes. – And so when you talk
about things that might help to reduce recidivism, you’ve talked about there’s transportation, there’s housing, because when an inmate gets
out, if there’s no family to connect to, they have to figure out how they’re gonna get a job,
how they can get the job, how they’re gonna pay for housing. So there are three or four
of five very clear barriers, chemical dependency, substance abuse. – Mental health. – Multiple things that
you as program directors need to worry about. – Absolutely. And those are the main things that I see. And there’s of course your
smaller day-to-day things. If you think about the things
that we need to survive, the necessities, if you don’t
have the means to provide yourself with housing,
food, transportation, it just, it can escalate. And often times they’re
return back to their old ways because of survival mode. They go into survival mode and
you go back to your old ways of what got you into
trouble in the first place without the proper resources available. So programs such as mine, I
think, it’s a newer concept, I think would be very, very important. I believe Eliot’s position, we have transitional
coordinators within the prisons, but I’m not real sure
how common it is to have a position like Eliot’s
throughout all the county jails. – Typically, there’s actually a term, it’s called a RAP Program,
Release Action Plan and you’ll find that
with the bigger counties. These get so involved and
they require so much time that they only take a select
number of people to do it. So your almost selected
out of a group of people and meet criteria and then you’re allowed to be part of the RAP Program. Don’t get me wrong, it’s
fantastic that they have it and it opens a lot of
doors for that person and it has proven to be very successful. The smaller communities
don’t have access to it. I don’t even consider
what I do to be a program. I think I mentioned that to
you before just because I can’t undertake, if we’re at
maximum capacity, 70 inmates, I can’t do the same thing
for every one of them. I do not physically have
enough time even if I were to spend, not sleep
for the entire week, I would not have enough
time in my entire week to find it for everyone. So it’s almost, in my opinion, I have to triage who’s
worse off at that time and help them as best I can. – You also mentioned I know
earlier in the discussion about there are volunteer groups or there are churches or others. Tell us about the role
of community volunteers or other institutions to help make this transition successful. – Sure. Our jail actually has
over 50 volunteers now. If you put that to numbers,
we’re sitting at 70 inmates with 50 volunteers, that’s
pretty good numbers, which it is. Renville County is a phenomenal
county to be a part of, from the government to the
people that live in it. And we have some very dedicated volunteers that come to our jail. Grace Community Church right in Olivia has been very dedicated. Wednesday night church
services, helping inmates on their release, things like that. Then we have local sober
houses that help us and they help me fill a lot
of gaps on the housing end for the inmates. We have a ton of people
that are willing to help, but then there lies a problem again, that’s only for a few people
that they’re able to do it for. An income for a small
church in Olivia, Minnesota, I shouldn’t say income, but
a budget for a small church in Olivia is, can’t help 70 people. It’s just not feasible. – And, Carrie, do you see a similar thing on a regional level as
you look at volunteers, other groups, community groups. What is their effectiveness or their role in helping to make these
transitions successful? – Well, I absolutely, yes, for sure, the more rural community you go to, the less resources you have,
less money that’s available through churches or wherever. In some counties that I,
like Kandiyohi for example, we have Home to Home, which
is a resources available for folks that have found
housing and need help supplying their home with
things like kitchen utensils and furniture and things like that, it’s all used, it’s all
donated and it’s free to the clients that use it. Phenomenal thing to have
because most of the time they can’t afford, they
maybe can secure housing, but they can’t afford to furnish it. So, churches, there’s a
few churches in Willmar that I have connection to,
as well as in the other communities in addition to them. I think resources are and
volunteerism is important, but funding for more programming I think, like you for your type of
position and reentry positions being they’re fairly new
concepts would be very well received as well. – Yeah and I wanna touch
on that because you said reentry as being something relatively new because one thing people
wanna look at I’m sure is how do you know you’re
successful because there may be an individual story where
there may be some statistics that you can point to,
but as you said, Eliot, a lot of things in the current
system haven’t been working. You have examples I’m sure
of where you’ve been able to work with somebody, or Carrie you have and you know that you’ve
helped them make a successful transition that perhaps they wouldn’t have if you hadn’t been there,
right, you’ve seen those? – Yeah. One that comes to mind,
Renville County Jail also houses federal inmates. I can’t give specific names
of the people that I helped or that our jail has helped, but the one that comes
to mind is an individual, half his face is tattooed,
his entire body is covered in tattoos, a lot of tattoos
which are gang related. He had spent years in
the federal system and I wanna say he spend maybe
eight months of his life outside of prison and county jails. Believe he was 28 years old and that’s just to me unreal. How do you prepare a release
for someone like that? He doesn’t know what to
do at any point in time. He doesn’t even know where to
go to get a driver’s license. He’s never had a driver’s license. He hasn’t has access to a lot of things. – Sometimes they’re
released without photo ID, Social Security cards, certified copy of their birth certificate, so you almost, there are
certain situations where you have to start at the least
common denominator, so to speak, because without those items,
it’s difficult to do much. – So what do you do in the
case of that or someone else. You mentioned where taking them
from that point to success. – A lot of them probably,
and the reason why I bring his up is because
he’s not from Renville County. That means I have to
work with another county that he’s gonna be released to. They had something of a navigator there, but it was through Human Services
where they were gonna show him options to chemical
dependency treatment, types of anger management
that he could go to, support groups he could go to, walk him through health
insurance because someone in his position, he
doesn’t even understand health insurance at all. Help him through a general assistance. And that to me I thought
was the coolest thing I had ever heard of. Their Human Services
actually had somebody devoted to walk him through. And they said, since
he doesn’t have an ID, how am I gonna recognize him? And I said, you’ll know
exactly who I’m talking about the second he walks through the door because he looks like he’s been to prison. He was actually a very decent person. He was very kind-hearted, very respectful. Did he have his moments? Yes, he did. But how can I expect something different? Expecting him to turn out
like you or me or anyone, it’s a challenge because he never will. What he will turn out is,
eventually he could turn out to be someone who is his own. You know what I mean, somebody
who’s actually in recovery from incarceration, you might call it. – So you’ve seen individuals
that you’ve worked with make the transition for a
year or two or three years after being incarcerated where
maybe the longest stretch of time in their life where
they’re not incarcerated. Carrie, you, similar stories? – Similar stories. When you talk about that,
I have a recollection of a young man in his early 30s. Came out of a very long-term
incarceration in prison. Tattied up, neck tatties, the whole body covered in tattoos. Came to see me and we
just started diving in. And weekly visits, one on one for well over a year. There were periods of time
where we could stretch the visits out a little bit further, but with time and
perseverance I heard from him just the other day and he
has maintained his employment the entire time at the
same place because we finally got somebody to
give him an opportunity. He has his own home now. He was living with a family member. Once of his goals as a 30-year-old was to have his own place and he has that. He has a significant other in his life, which he didn’t think
he ever had hope for, healthy relationship. He got his driver’s
license, bought his own car, just an amazing success story
and there’s more of them out there, but one person can
only serve so many people. – As we look at this success
story, which of course I’m sure drives both of
you in your work knowing that there are success
stories and we have examples of that that are probably
easier to describe than they are necessarily to
measure on a nationwide basis. I’ve been wondering, what
are the things that you wish more people knew about
the work that you do? Because of course, Carrie,
in a lot of what you do, people don’t know about it
or Eliot, they don’t know about what goes on in the jail. Carrie, I’m gonna start with you first. What would you really like people to know about what you do that you
find most people don’t? – So what I think is
very important to know is that when you help
folks become productive members of society, whatever
success looks like to them, it helps build stronger
individuals, families communities and society as a whole. So in the long-term picture of it all, we all will benefit from
it, not just the individual. Once a person has paid
the price for the crime that they have served, I
think it’s very important to be receptive and
open-minded to allowing them a second chance, kinda
like the Second Chance Act, that’s why it’s called that. Gives them a second opportunity to reenter and reach their goals. – And we should clarify,
the Second Chance Act was passed by congress in 2007, I believe, as a way to encourage and
take a look at this issue of reentry into society, correct? – Correct. – Okay. Eliot, for you, what would
you like people to know? You’re doing this 40 hours a week, working with inmates, 50, 60 70 inmates. What would you like people to know? – Jail isn’t what you see on TV, especially the Renville County Jail. It is not like that. Yes, we deal with people
who have a violent history or maybe they are violent
while they’re there, but the majority of them aren’t. The majority of them you’ve already been shopping with at Walmart. You stood right next to them
and they didn’t even hurt you. A lot of them are dealing with issues of chemical dependency,
mental health, anger issues, family issues, adverse
childhood experiences and so many different things. Our duty is to the community. I wear a uniform, I work
for a sheriff’s department, my duty is to my
community and the best way I can finally keep somebody
safe in their own community isn’t to make sure somebody
stays behind a steel door for the next 90 days. It’s when that person
does leave that building that they’re a safer
person for you to be with. That’s the reason why our
jail offers statistically more programs than most jails our size. It’s comparable to jails
that are larger than us. In order for that to happened, for me to produce that
person that comes out to be a better person, I need
access to these programs. I need anger management, I
need to have these things for the inmates so that they work on them while they’re here, while they’re in jail as opposed to as soon as Carrie
get them when they get out. If I’ve already got a chemical
dependency treatment done, that’s one last hurdle for Carrie. If we work together on this, the numbers would be phenomenal. – And Carrie, we’ve got
about a minute left here, so I’m thinking, for people
who wanna know more information or for people who may
know someone who’s in jail and is going to need those
services as they get out, your advice of where to
go for more information, and I’d like to start with you, Eliot. – You could go to the Renville
County Sheriff’s website. Look under the jail tab. You can find out more about our programs, what we offer there, how to
become a volunteer at the jail. – And Carrie for you. – Our website is and they can also reach out to me. My email is
[email protected] and my work number is 320-212-2935. I would be happy to answer any questions. – Good. I wanna thank you both
for coming on Compass and thank you for the work that you do. – Thank you. – Thank you. – Carrie Brightman and Eliot Johnson, thanks for joining us on
Compass and that’s all for this episode. Thanks for watching and
we’ll see you next week. – [Announcer] If you missed
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