HomeLocal governmentAlachua County Commission moves forward with Re-entry Hub to support people leaving jail and prison
Alachua County Commission moves forward with Re-entry Hub to support people leaving jail and prison
July 6, 2023
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At their June 27 meeting, the Alachua County Commission approved the next steps toward a proposed Re-entry Hub for people being released from jail or prison.
The board gave direction to staff about a year ago to have Court Services and Community Support Services look at ways to reallocate funding and services from focusing on incarceration to moving toward prevention and reducing recidivism, and the Re-entry Hub emerged from the resulting research as a nationwide practice.
Move from work release to providing services and support
Community Support Services Director Claudia Tuck said the idea is to move from a work release format to a model that provides services and support to people leaving the jail and their family members; she said the Hub would “refocus on prevention of re-incarceration and address the criminogenic needs–which is basically concerns that, if left unresolved, could lead to increased risk of engaging in criminal activity–and to design services that prevent recidivism.”
Tuck said her department held four community engagement meetings that covered topics like leadership and decision-making, meaningful resources, barriers, trust, and the “need for humanness.” About 20 people participated in the meetings, including representatives from the Alachua County Library District, BOLD (Gainesville Police Department’s re-entry program), Community Spring, the Department of Corrections, GRACE Marketplace, the Library Partnership, Released, Southern Legal Counsel, and local pastors.
The recommendations included including people who were previously incarcerated; identifying needs; providing assistance with housing, transportation, and identification; teaching financial skills; providing access to food, clothing, and personal care items; mentoring; advocacy; education; life skill development; and assistance with searching for a job.
Tuck said her research showed that re-entry hubs that focus on employment “are the least successful of any re-entry center. If you don’t address the core issues, it’s not going to prevent recidivism.”
She said therapeutic services are also needed, including substance abuse counseling and cognitive therapy.
Tuck said the group felt strongly that the Hub “should not be in a government setting or on the jail grounds” and that “impacted individuals” should be involved in all aspects of the Hub. She said the group also emphasized that the Hub should be “low-barrier: there shouldn’t be a whole lot of things that someone needs to produce in order to get in there.” She said the Hub should connect people to “real jobs, sustainable jobs that provide income that they can maintain.” The Hub would be available to Alachua County residents and their family members that are released from jail or prison.
Staff recommended that the board allow staff to work with stakeholders to develop a Scope of Work for a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the operation of a Re-entry Hub, develop a budget, release the RFP, develop and monitor a contract for operating the Hub, and implement a pilot Hub if the RFP does not produce any responses.
In response to a question from Commissioner Ken Cornell, Tuck said the potential annual budget for the Hub is half a million dollars a year. Cornell said he wanted to see County staff and the community “coming up with something where we could monitor it for a couple of years. And then ultimately, I think, if it were a nonprofit that aligned with all of our values, that we could turn it over to them, not dissimilar to what we kind of started with the City and GRACE, and now GRACE is kind of contracted out by the City because they don’t really have that expertise.”
Cornell said the budgeted amount “hopefully is like an investment… in not having folks be admitted back into the jail and having the interactions with law enforcement reduced, and so that should help law enforcement’s budget.”
Commissioner Mary Alford said she had spoken with people who were formerly incarcerated, and they didn’t want a location anywhere near the jail; she suggested a downtown location. She said one person had suggested providing an incentive for people to visit the Hub upon their release from jail, such as bus passes or gift certificates to Walmart or to a grocery store.
Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler made a motion to approve staff’s recommendation.
Concerns about metrics and the budget
Chair Anna Prizzia asked about metrics and accountability, “to know that we were succeeding at re-entry… in terms of recidivism and things like that.”
Tuck said the RFP would require “a variety of metrics,” but she believed that the process should begin as soon as someone is booked into the jail, to “really be looking at who is going to need services when they come out. Because while everybody might benefit from touching the program, there’s a much smaller number that really need all the resources that could be offered through the program.”
Prizzia said she was excited about the Hub but concerned about the budget because the board previously voted to reallocate $1.2 million from the Work Release program to focus on re-entry services; she wanted the board to commit to more than a pilot program and actually put recurring funding for the Hub into the budget.
Cornell agreed, saying that they could use carry-forward funds to develop the RFP and then have discussions about recurring funds during the budget cycle: “And so I think we will have the right amount of funds available once we kind of figure out what the right model is, which I think is probably going to be some combination that morphs into kind of a fully-funded non-profit that operates similar to [the way] GRACE does and we outsource to that group instead of us doing it ourselves.”
Cornell added, “This Hub should not be a place that we require folks to go to. It should be a place that people are running to because they recognize that they’re gonna have support to kind of get back on their feet, if that’s what they need, or access to other services… The more it can organically be coming from the community as a resource for folks, and it kind of develops a life of its own, the stronger it will be for those folks that need it.”
Board wants Re-entry Hub to be “one piece of a bigger thing”
Prizzia said the Hub is “one piece of a bigger thing that we’re addressing as a County, and how do we do the other pieces?” She favored putting more pieces in place in Court Services and in the jail to support re-entry.
Cornell said he hoped federal funds would be available to support the Hub once it gets up and running.
Prizzia added to the motion a request that staff “do the research and bring back the internal models for re-entry programming” in addition to the Hub. She elaborated that she was referring to “additional efforts that we can do with internal [resources], like Court Services, in partnership with the Sheriff and others, to re-look at the past re-entry programming that we had and bring that forward as a possibility to reinvigorate… our past re-entry programming.”
Reasons for ending the Work Release program
Commissioner Chuck Chestnut supported the Hub but was concerned about the end of the Work Release program because people lose their job when they’re jailed and can become homeless: “I don’t know what happened, what caused it to disappear, for some reason, or to get rid of it, but I think it’s very important that we help people maintain their jobs and be sustainable in the workplaces where they work so they don’t lose their job.”
County Manager Michele Lieberman said staff could “bring back alternatives to work release that would allow people to maintain their jobs. Part of the concern with work release was, as you are aware, the judges stopped sending people for an extended period of time until several things were changed about the program that they were unhappy with. And even after that, we were still averaging such low numbers–for a program that ran $1.6 million to $1.8 million, we were talking about 15 to 20 people on average at any given time in a facility that could hold double that, easily. I don’t know that we ever restored that confidence in the program to the judicial system that we needed to. But I think there are other alternatives available out there as well that we can also bring back.”
Chestnut said judges should be “at the table” during the whole process of developing re-entry programs to explain what their concerns were with the Work Release program so a replacement program could be successful.
Prizzia agreed, saying that’s why she said the process has to begin at booking: “If somebody loses their job and is unable then to provide for their families, then when they get out, it’s a vicious cycle.”
Tuck said that in staff’s meetings with the Sheriff’s Office, the Sheriff “had some ideas of what he could do, also, to look at getting people out of the jail quicker.”
Wheeler said judges should have “some kind of leeway in terms of sentencing around the job” if a person with a job is jailed.
Prizzia added that she hoped they could “minimize or eliminate the garnishing of wages as part of the program, I think that could be a big component.”
Following public comments that supported the motion, the board voted unanimously to move forward.
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