ROCKLAND, Maine — The Midcoast Recovery Coalition and the Knox County Sheriff’s Department are collaborating to establish a program that will help inmates released from the Knox County Jail reintegrate into society.
Dr. Ira Mandel, MD, is facilitating the collaboration, which aims to assign mentors to released inmates to help coordinate their access to, for example, employment opportunities, residential options and stable financial footing.
Right now, “that piece is missing for us,” Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison said of one-on-one support for inmates being released.
While the initial idea behind the program was to assist inmates who have struggled with addiction, the reality, Mandel said Tuesday, is the vast majority, or about 85 percent, of inmates have some experience with drug use. Even for inmates who are not in jail for a drug-related crime, Dennison said, many commit crimes, like theft, to fuel their addictions.
The Knox Co. Jail Re-Entry Program will be something, therefore, that any inmate can access, Mandel said.
Funding the program — estimated to require about $100,000 annually — will come from grant money, which Mandel and his team are still trying to procure. A case manager who will oversee the program will be hired full time, he said, and the rest of the team will likely be comprised of a team of trained volunteers.
The jail holds about 80 inmates for periods of time ranging from a day to nine months. Inmates who are sentenced to more than nine months serve their time at the Maine State Prison in Warren, Dennison said.
The hope is that inmates who have extended sentences at the jail will have the opportunity to be assessed by the trained mentors over time, so their needs can be more aptly met once they’re released, Mandel said, “because once they’re in jail, their ability to communicate with the outside is very, very limited.”
While the broader goal is to reduce the rate of recidivism, Mandel said, this approach will also help facilitate comprehensive rehabilitation — “we want inmates to be assisted in a productive and successful way, so that they can find employment, support themselves (enough) to heal, and to contribute to society.”
Even if the coordination for those services exists, Dennison said, it still falls to the inmate’s individual choice “to really want to get better.”
Other communities in Maine have launched similar reentry programs, like the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center in Belfast, serving inmates from the Waldo County Jail, and the state-operated Women’s Reentry Center at the York County Jail.
The concept of the Knox Co. program and the belief that providing inmates with tailored support to help ease them back into productive lives “is not rocket science,” Mandel said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
But it will take the goodwill and willingness on the part of the community to get involved, Dennison said.
“It’s serious,” Dennison said. “But we can only start some place and just hope that things can get better.”