Rehabilitating local inmates while they are incarcerated is one thing, but what happens when they are released? Aware that a positive reintroduction to society is crucial to success, Gulf Coast Community Foundation has partnered with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) to launch the law-enforcement agency’s inaugural Re-entry Navigator Program.
With funding from Gulf Coast, the Sheriff’s Office has hired two full-time “re-entry navigators,” who will connect inmates to reintegration programs before and after they leave the county jail, helping them avoid returning and ultimately keeping the community safer.
“This is much more than a grant,” said Mark S. Pritchett, President | CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation. “It is a start-up investment in an innovative, evidence-based program that is part of a larger strategy to transform criminal justice in our community from punitive to rehabilitative.”
A helping hand
The SCSO’s reentry navigators will begin working with inmates while they are still incarcerated, providing counseling and re-entry planning. The navigators will continue that relationship from the moment men and women are released from the jail, maintaining case management and ensuring the individuals can participate in the follow-up services they need to succeed in the community.
“Our navigators will make sure that, when they are released, people will have access to a large range of support services that will help them get their lives back on track and stay out of trouble,” Sheriff Tom Knight said at a press briefing today at Sheriff’s Office headquarters. “This might include continued substance-abuse treatment, mental-health treatment, general healthcare, housing, transportation, identification, and job training.”
Gulf Coast’s Pritchett noted that the foundation and many of its donors already support numerous health and human services programs from which inmates can benefit once they are released. Funding the Navigator Program leverages those investments, helping to make the system more effective while reducing the likelihood that men and women will reoffend and return to jail.
Reducing re-offense and cost
Knight stressed that the Reentry Navigator Program will benefit not only incarcerated individuals and their families, but also the larger community. “By ending the revolving door of arrest and recidivism for lower-level offenders, we are also reducing crime,” he said. “We are reducing homelessness, panhandling, unemployment, and poverty. All of this means that our neighborhoods are safer, our quality of life is better, and the burden on our taxpayers is reduced.”
The Reentry Navigator Program was among a dozen jail-diversion and treatment strategies recommended last summer by Sarasota County’s Criminal Justice Commission to the Sarasota County Commission. It is the first of those recommendations to be funded and implemented. It also builds on a decade of innovative work by the Sheriff’s Office under Knight’s leadership to improve the lives of inmates and help them reach their full potential through programs that aim to reduce recidivism and promote restorative justice.
“For me as Sheriff, Gulf Coast Community Foundation was the perfect partner for us because they are proactive leaders who are willing to tackle difficult regional issues,” Knight said. “They can also leverage a wide network of donors and resources to address big, complex challenges like we’re talking about here.”
The hope, Knight added, is to create a model for criminal justice and social services that will be adopted by other communities throughout the United States. “We want to help other communities by helping ourselves,” Knight said.
You can view the entire press conference here.