Grant aims to stop jail’s door from revolving

Officials at the Mesa County Jail are using a $98,444 federal grant to keep those released from jail from coming back.

On Monday the Mesa County Commission unanimously approved the acceptance of a Justice Assistance Grant, allowing the Sheriff’s Department to continue developing a transition program for inmates who want to break the cycle of crime and incarceration and remain on the outside.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department has no solid data on recidivism rates at the local jail in the 200 block of Rice Street, but jailers say from the number of familiar faces they see year after year, the rate of repeat offenders is quite high.

“If we keep doing business the same old way of only locking people up and not offering people help, then you may as well keep building jails and prisons,” said Lt. Donna Dougherty, grant administrator for the transition program. “Because we will never break the cycle that keeps them coming back.”

It costs the Sheriff’s Department $52.40 each day to keep one inmate. But with the grant, the department is able to interview inmates, find out their needs are and direct them toward services that will help with such things as alcohol and drug rehabilitation, job placement and housing once they are released.

The program was launched in February in anticipation of the commission’s approving Monday’s grant, which was used to hire a program coordinator. In its first six months the program assisted 179 inmates — 125 of whom were men and 54 women. Of that number, 109 have been released, and 18, or about 16 percent, became repeat offenders, Dougherty said.

With the $98,000 grant, the department will hire a data technician to start crunching numbers and compile an accurate recidivism rate for the county jail, and it will pay a year’s salary for its program coordinator, Dougherty said.

“So far we are seeing great success and growth with the program,” she said.

Commissioner Craig Meis said he appreciated the aim of the program, but added eventually he wants to see numbers.

“We want to make sure there are some results that come out of this,” he said.


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