OGDEN — When people are released from jail, all too often there is little to stop them from falling into old habits that land them back behind bars.
With the help of a $1 million grant, the Weber County Sheriff’s Office is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The sheriff’s office was recently awarded the money from the Bureau of Justice Assistance that will go toward additional mental health services both in the jail and out in the community, with the overall goal to be cutting down of recidivism rates once people in jail are released.
The grant, which will be paid out over a four-year span, will go toward additional funding for the Weber Addictions and Reentry Program, or WARP, an initiative that began in February.
WARP provides mental health and addiction recovery services for those in jail and continues those services once they leave jail and reenter the community, according to Mace Warren, the clinical director for Alpha Counseling, a jail contract service that provides forensic treatment for people incarcerated in jail and prisons throughout Utah.
Warren said there are about 80 people enrolled in WARP, and the new source of funding will allow that number to double, in addition to expanding inpatient services outside of the jail. As people begin to complete the program, as about 50 already have done since February, more spots will open up.
“This (grant) is just an expansion on WARP,” said Lt. Brian Baggs with the Weber County Sheriff’s Office. “We’d be doing WARP with or without the grant.”
Phillip Reese, the interim chief deputy for the WCSO Corrections Division, said an important aspect of the grant is the money provided to facilitate oversight by researchers.
The sheriff’s office paired up with the University of Cincinnati, and together the two organizations will have an evidence-driven approach to helping those in jail combat addiction and give people a better chance to make it outside of jail. By having researchers involved in every step of the process, jail staff will be able to see what methods work and which ones do not.
“So all of the programs that Alpha Counseling provides are all evidence-based,” Reese said. “That’s an important part of bringing in the University of Cincinnati and having that control group to provide solid statistical numbers and we can go back and say, ‘Look this was successful, and this wasn’t successful.’ So what wasn’t successful we’ll fix and adjust as needed.”
Once the grant ends in 2023, Warren said a report on WARP will be assembled and published by the Department of Justice.
The goal is to give someone in jail a strong tie to programs and resources in the community that can help them avoid reoffending once they are released, Baggs said.
“The intent is to be more individualized than just handing someone a pamphlet and saying, ‘Here you go. Here’s where to to; good luck,’” Baggs said.
A big issue that the sheriff’s office has had in the past is continuing someone’s medication or mental health service once they leave the jail. Now, with the help of the grant money, those who leave jail will be able to continue to have their medications filled through the Seager Memorial Clinic, a nonprofit medical clinic located inside of the Ogden Rescue Mission. In addition, the therapist one would see while in jail would be the same therapist one would see when they are out of jail.
Weber County Sheriff Ryan Arbon said Friday that having a consistent mental health provider for someone during and after their jail stay is an important piece for success.
“Building the relationship of trust needs to start right when they come in here and continue,” Arbon said.
Even just educating those who leave jail about their options is a crucial piece for success, says Nita Bakke, a clinical supervisor in the sheriff’s office who helps run WARP. On Friday, she recalled talking to a man being released from jail earlier in the day who was blown away knowing he had a place to get his prescription instead of turning to self-medication to deal with his mental illness.
“Taking that time and that effort just to educate them has been huge,” Bakke said.
Ultimately, the goal of WARP is to decrease recidivism rates and set people up for success to stay out of jail and in the community.
Warren said that it’s unfortunate that jail is too often the beginning point for people to receive mental health treatment, but you have to start somewhere.
“We need to address this issue,” Warren said. “If we can get them started early and have a transition plan in place for them, then we can hopefully see some higher success rates with all our partners combined.”
In terms of a long-term strategy, a large aspect of the grant will go toward training. The researchers at the University of Cincinnati will train a handful of jail staffers on the most effective evidence-based methods to helping those struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues. In turn, jail administrators will train others on those same methods, ensuring that the methods learned are not lost in the event of turnover in the sheriff’s office, which is always a possibility.
Keeping people out of jail is not only good for the community, but also good for the bottom line of taxpayers. Reese estimated that it costs the county roughly $28,000 to keep someone in jail for the entire year.
Warren joked that keeping only a handful of people out of jail would allow the program to pay for itself, but the jail administration’s goals are not that limited.
“Our target is more than just that,” Warren said.
While the federal grant is limited and focused on mental health and addiction programs, the sheriff’s office is in the process of applying for another federal grant that would aid in housing for those leaving jail.
Arbon said that much of the reason Weber County was selected for the $1 million grant was due to the initiative taken by members of the sheriff’s office and community groups.
“It’s not just one person, this is group thinking,” he said. “This is everybody taking their best and bringing it together and making it better.”