PORTLAND — Housing and caring for an inmate at the Cumberland County Jail costs an average of $112 per day.
Sheriff Kevin Joyce and staff from eight nonprofits hope to rein those costs in with help from a $650,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant aimed at preventing released inmates from returning.
Project Reentry ties together housing, treatment, counseling and training in a program that begins while inmates are serving their sentences.
“We try to identify people when they are first incarcerated, and see what they need,” said Arlene Jacques, who directs educational services at the jail.
Joyce conceded jail services do not always match inmates’ needs, especially when it comes to treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.
“We’ll release them with medication for two weeks, but if they aren’t staying with someone or have a plan, they will be back here,” he said.
Catherine Chichester, executive director of the Co-Occurring Collaborative Serving Maine, said her organization, funded by the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, tries to link services for integrated and behavioral health.
“Our hope is, we create pathways that are a little more streamlined,” she said of the steps to help inmates find paths away from incarceration.
Project Reentry was established in 2014 with an initial federal grant and worked with at least 40 inmates directly while providing some assistance to at least 50 more, Shawn LeGrega, deputy director of the nonprofit Maine Pretrial Services, said June 25.
The new grant continues the work, with at least seven people enrolled already, Jennifer Galletta of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office added.
Project Reentry is intensive, time-consuming and demanding for those who participate and for those who run it. Participants can expect at least 200 hours of treatment and services over nine months.
Participants must also be facing at least nine months of probation or have been serving time because probation was revoked.
“We know it takes a really long time; you have to do it one step at a time,” Faye Luppi, a director of Cumberland County’s Violence Intervention Partnership, said. “We really do have to guide and direct.”
Luppi helps oversee the use of grants to stop domestic violence. The tie-in comes as inmates may also be domestic violence victims themselves, she said.
Breaking the cycle of recidivism involves rebuilding lives. One of the first things LaGrega gives a participant is a calendar, just to block out how they will take the steps and meet the appointments.
“Nothing ever goes quite as planned with the participants,” he said. “One of the first ways I gauge how someone is going to do is, we have a requirement they call us every night. That is sort of the litmus test.”
A plan can also come apart almost instantly, LaGrega and Galletta noted as they talked about a new participant recently released from jail.
“By Friday afternoon, my phone was blowing up,” LaGrega said. “We spent the bulk of the day trying to problem-solve how they were going to be safe in the community and get the services going forward.”
As the second round begins, peer counselors from the Portland Recovery Community Center are now meeting with participants.
“It is a relationship most of us can’t offer because we are not peers,” Galletta said.
Goodwill provides vocational training, but employment is not usually the first priority while former inmates get counseling and treatment for mental health, medical and substance use disorder needs.
“We won’t be encouraging someone to go out and get a job within the first two weeks. Too much other structure is needed,” LaGrega said.
Carolee Lindsey of Catholic Charities Counseling Services said her role is to help with more risk assessments once a participant is released from jail.
Matching people with services and opportunities to improve their lives is a core belief.
“It is human capital you have to invest in if you are going to have a better society,” Lindsey said.
Jennifer Galletta, left, of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, and Sheriff Kevin Joyce on June 25 said Project Reentry is designed to help those most likely to return to jail avoid the paths to repeated incarceration.
CCSME Director Catherine Chicester, left, Faye Luppi of Cumberland County and Shawn LaGrega of Maine Pretrial Services help coordinate and steer services and treatments for Project Reentry participants.