March 9, 2009 in City

County offers inmates classes for life after prison

Training covers budgeting, substance abuse, parenting
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Kenny Andrews, 18, talks about a new Spokane County Sheriff’s Office program that aims to give inmates skills for re-entering society.
(Full-size photo)

Spokane County inmates are learning how to function in the world after they get out of jail, and Arthur Allen thinks it’s about time.

The Geiger Corrections Center inmate, 48, has been behind bars off and on all his life. That pattern might end with his participation in a pilot program, launched Monday by the county Sheriff’s Office, to help him and others be more productive citizens.

The program gives inmates at Geiger and the Spokane County Jail the opportunity learn how to manage a budget, rent responsibly and line up a job before they’re released. They’ll also be able to earn a General Education Degree, learn parenting skills, and learn how to cope with drug and alcohol addictions.

Allen is serving a sentence at Geiger on charges of driving with a suspended license. He is one of 14 inmates who met the criteria for the re-entry program.

“The goal is to reduce recidivism,” Spokane County sheriff’s Lt. Mike Sparbar said. “The more times we do nothing, the worse it gets, not just for us, but for the state.”

The program is closely modeled after one in Oregon’s Washington County, said Lt. Aaron Anderton with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office. The Oregon program showed those who completed it were half as likely to be rearrested, Anderton said.

Spokane County’s pilot program is one change in a string of efforts to improve the local criminal justice system. It was made possible with a $3.1 million grant awarded to Spokane Homeless Assistance Response and Prevention Partnership and North East Washington Treatment Alternatives, Sparbar said.

Julie Driscoll, a community development specialist with SHARPP, said they already were working with inmates in Spokane jails when corrections officials were discussing how to get the classes started. “We pointed out if they were homeless, and not arsonists or sex offenders,” then SHARPP could use its grant to offer classes, she said.

Sheriff’s office employees were reassigned to accommodate the program, and an empty building was turned into a classroom and office, Anderton said. “We tried to do it as a zero (new) cost.”

Other than being homeless, other criteria for qualifying inmates include having at least 60 to 90 days left in their sentence and a need for drug or alcohol therapy, Anderton said.

The first group is small, but the goal is to grow to handle up to 250 inmates at a time, officials said.

During Monday’s classes, instructor William Noland with Volunteers of America explained how to manage a budget. Transportation is 5 percent, Noland said. Food is 30 percent, and utilities are 5 percent, he said.

Allen had never learned how to keep a budget, he said.

With information like this, as well as a job and place to live when they get out, “their chances for success will greatly improve,” Anderton said.

Sitting beside Allen at Geiger was fellow inmate Kenny Andrews. The 18-year-old also qualified for the program. “It’s a good opportunity,” Andrews said.

Allen added, “I’m looking at him thinking that’s me, only there’s one difference – there’s help.”

Contact Jody Lawrence-Turner at (509) 459-5593 or jodyl@spokesman.com.

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