A new service has just launched in Ketchikan to help people coming out of the prison system re-integrate into the community. The hope is to reduce the number of people returning to jail.
Ketchikan has all kinds of resources that could help a recently released inmate successfully start over.
“But, accessing them can be incredibly difficult,” said Tundra Greenstreet, the coordinator for the Ketchikan Re-Entry Coalition.
The coalition is one of a series of programs across the state that aims to reduce the high rate of “recidivism.” That’s when people who have been released from prison commit another crime and have to go back to jail.
“It ends up being about 2/3 of inmates that get released end up committing crimes once they come out,” he said.
That’s not good for anyone: the inmate, the community or the state. So, reducing that recidivism rate is a good goal. Greenstreet said Ketchikan’s newly launched re-entry program will provide a “navigator” for recently released inmates.
It’s a six-month program that focuses on getting the right services for each individual.
“Helping them find supports, helping them get into treatment, helping them find housing, helping them get health care and other kinds of things like that,” Greenstreet said. “As well as community connectedness.”
A barrier for many people has been simply finding services. And then there’s the sometimes-complicated paperwork needed to sign up.
“We do find that a lot of these individuals, because of various things that they’ve faced in their life, and also because of choices that they’ve made, they often do not have as many skills,” he said. “And that makes things a little bit more difficult for them.”
Many inmates struggle with substance abuse, mental health and developmental disabilities, Greenstreet said. That can contribute to their lack of life skills.
He said through the new program, a navigator works one-on-one with a client to develop a plan, and checks in on them regularly. Hopefully, at the close of the six-month program, the client will have developed enough skills to proceed on their own.
A driving force for the state to fund these programs is the increasing cost of incarceration.
“Since we’ve started implementing some of these measures, since we started looking at things like re-entry support to address recidivism, we actually have seen the prison population go down,” Greenstreet said. “It’s having an impact, a real impact. And that does, in fact, lower costs for the state.”
Other parts of Alaska have had similar programs running long enough to see those results. The Ketchikan Re-Entry Coalition first formed in July of 2017, and the local navigation program is brand-new. Greenstreet said they estimate up to 24 individuals per month are returning to Ketchikan following completion of a jail sentence.
Ideally, he said, they like to start before someone is released.
“That way, we can kind of have things set up ahead of time,” he said. “So that first day that they set foot here on the island, we can get them right into assessments, get them right into services. They’re going to meet somebody right away that’s going to be helping them and walking them through the process. That’s the ideal situation.”
Most clients will be referred through the state’s probation department, although other agencies can make referrals.
And, Greenstreet said, if someone at first thinks they don’t need the program and then later changes their mind, they have up to two months after release to sign up.
Right now Greenstreet is the only navigator, so they’re looking at initially signing up just five people in Ketchikan. If things work out, he said, they’ll enlarge the program to help more people.
The Ketchikan Re-Entry Coalition meets once a month in the large conference room at Akeela-Gateway. The public meetings are the second Tuesday of each month from 2-3:30 p.m.
For more information: www.KetchikanReentry.org