Editor’s Note: This story was written by Kira Maddox for Ithaconomy, an Ithaca College student publication and is republished with their permission.

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Thanks to added funding, Tompkins County will see the beginning of a new program with goals of both humanitarian and economic benefit.

The 2016 Tompkins County budget was adopted Nov. 17. Nestled among the usual estimated expenditures is a $100,000 contingency fund, set aside to help jumpstart a jail re-entry program, said County Administrator Joe Mareane.

Jail re-entry programs aims to help curb the likeliness  of recidivism, said Suzi Cook, chair of the Criminal Justice/Alternatives to Incarceration Board of Tompkins County. Recidivism is the term given to the concept of released inmates going back to prison or jail due to continued criminal activity.

Mareane said funding saved from decrease mandate program costs was able to be re-directed to other services, the jail re-entry program included.

The fund would go to setting up the basics for the program. An example of what the money could go toward is a set coordinator position, who would help inmates with things like employment opportunities, mental health and substance abuse services, if needed.

Cook said curbing recidivism would be more cost effective than allowing inmates to continue the cycle in and out of jail, ultimately saving the area money.

“That can be seen in two different ways: in jail money saved by people not going back into the jail, but also lives that would be saved,” Cook said. “Someone becoming productive and becoming employed, it’s hard to put a dollar on that. But they’d be paying taxes instead of sitting in the jail; they’re actually contributing and starting to grow a productive, healthy life.”

Nationally, about 68 percent of prisoners were rearrested for a new crime within three years of release, and about 77 percent were re-arrested within five years, according to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice. While prison inmates have different needs because of the difference in sentencing time, there are still some areas of overlap, like drug abuse, mental health issues, housing and finding employment.

“We find that there’s a population that seems to go in and out and in and out and  in and out of the jail,” Cook said. “Names that become familiar to us, and many, many times it’s mental health issues or substance abuse issues.”

About two years ago, a Jail Alternative Task Force was created to assess the state of the county jails, with the Reentry Subcommittee established in February 2015 to create recommendations for a re-entry program.

According to a report by the RES, the county already had some informal re-entry programming established in  2008, which was able to assist 143 inmates from 2008–15. While that was only 14 percent of the total inmate population seen between those years, approximately 64 percent of those who took advantage of the programming did not return to Tompkins County Jail.

“Re-entry has been proven in many areas,” Cook said. “There’s a lot of studies saying with the right support, for people who are ready, for people who will use them, for people who will embrace and want to change, for people who are ready to make the change, it can be exactly the help they need to get on their feet.”

Cook said many other areas have re-entry programs, especially among more urban communities with larger jail and prison populations. However, she commended Tompkins County for being an area of “movers and shakers,” on board for progression.

Cook stressed that the re-entry program will be a “work in progress,” but that if, over time, it doesn’t have a positive impact, the money from the contingency fund could be relocated to other county programs.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.