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Hall seeks grant to study helping inmates rejoin society

POSTED: April 4, 2013 12:35 a.m.

Hall County applied in March for a federal grant to study a program to support reintegration of recently released inmates into society, county officials said.

The Justice Department grant, called The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program, totals $50,000.

Jessica Robinson, grants manager for Hall County, said if awarded, those funds would help create an advisory council and part-time overseer to explore the feasibility of such a program over one year.

“(The members will) spend that time looking at other programs, researching other funding sources, things like that, and come up with what we want to do,” she said.

It’s an idea that’s been floating around in various agencies, Robinson said.

“The courts and the sheriff’s office and Hall County had been looking at this and wanting to do (it) for quite some time,” Robinson said. “The new warden, Walt Davis — it’s kind of his background. These are things he’s familiar with, so when we saw that this grant was available, we applied.”

Judge Jason Deal serves on Superior Court in Hall and Dawson counties.

Deal said that within his own legal career, he’s been disappointed to see the same names pop back up in the system.

“I’ve been defense attorney, a prosecutor and a judge, and there’s some people whom I have defended, prosecuted and judged,” he said.

The re-entry to society, he said, can be a big hurdle.

“Unfortunately right now when somebody gets released, they get 25 dollars and a bus ticket and are told when they’re to meet with their parole or probation officer,” Deal said. “You can imagine how hard that would be.”

Deal oversees the drug court program, which at its inception, was a relatively new idea. Re-entry programs fill a similar space, he said, and having an accountability court under the umbrella of Treatment Services could make the program ideal.

“There are only a few of these throughout the nation. ... Hall County is in a unique situation where it would (be) workable here,” he said. “And part of what the study would be is figuring out what would it be like here and where it would fit in.”

It could look similar to drug court or mental health court, Deal said. Judge Kathlene Gosselin has been another advocate of pursuing the grant; Gosselin runs the mental health court.

“The idea is to take inmates returning to the community and reintegrate them into our community, so by the time they get into Hall County and get established, it makes it more likely they’ll find employment and less likely they’ll reoffend,” Deal said.

“The goal is to make sure we transition them in a way that they have the appropriate counseling, getting appropriate medications, employment, suitable place to live, etc.”

He noted other county programs, such as the work release program run by the sheriff’s office, have the common goal of reducing reincarceration and facilitating the routes to become productive members of society.

“We have a lot of pieces. If we put them together in the right way, I think it would make the recidivism come down significantly,” he said.

Recidivism is a term for persons who have been convicted and reoffend.

The target group for such a re-entry program, Deal said, is not “super-high-risk offenders,” but repeat violators or violators with underlying mental health issues, for example.

“We want to get them on the right road,” he said. “We’ve been pretty progressive on trying to find solutions, and pretty successful in the past. The Multi Agency Narcotics Squad is a great example of cooperation and its effectiveness with a goal to reduce recidivism.”

Robinson said federal grant applications typically take three to four months of consideration before a decision is returned.


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