Alternatives to Incarceration reports successful first year

“These people are part of our community.

“You shop with them every day.

“You might know them as your neighbors.

“They’re there, right beside you, every day in our community.

“They are us.

“We can’t have the mindset of ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ because eventually they’re going to get out [of jail] and you’re going to be working with them.

“You’re going to be dealing with them.

“What we’re trying to do is plant the seed [of changing their mindset] while we have the opportunity.”

Mary Ann Young, Director of Anderson County Detention Facility’s Alternatives to Incarceration Program, gave this rousing speech to Anderson County Commissioners on Monday, Sept. 18, at the Anderson County Commissioner’s meeting, during a brief presentation updating local officials on the program’s outcomes and achievements in the two and a half years it has been in operation.

The program began in February 2015, shortly after Young was hired to head the program. Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) classes were offered to inmates by May that same year.

Moral Reconation Therapy is a cognitive behavioral intervention program designed to reduce recidivism by teaching inmates how to increase their moral reasoning skills. MRT courses are offered at the jail to sentenced inmates over the course of approximately two months, and works on developing better decision-making skills.

Inmates must become self-aware in order to successfully complete and pass the courses.

About 100 volunteers from the community come into the Anderson County Detention Facility on a weekly basis, Young said. Of those 100, she said 20 are “official volunteer program facilitators” from areas like Ridgeview Behavioral Health, ETHRA Workforce and Development, PSI Probation, Child Advocacy Center, Anderson County Adult Education, the Department of Labor Workforce and Development, and the American Job Center.

“We are blessed to have numerous volunteer citizens from the community that are coming into our facility on a weekly basis,” Young said.

Currently, the jail is providing inmates 20 ongoing classes, some of those MRT classes, which makes up the core program.

“We’re a busy, busy facility and this is a weekly thing,” Young said.

Some of the classes offered include Staying Quit, a quitting addiction class, Thinking for Good, Parenting and Family values classes, domestic violence classes, and a class on relationships and learning how to identify the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships.

“What we’re trying to do is provide them [the inmates] with the tools that will help them be able to have a plan of action in place when they get released, so they won’t be as likely to return,” Young explained.

As of Aug. 9, 2017, 162 sentenced inmates have participated in and completed the MRT classes. Since beginning MRT classes in May of 2015, Young reported that there have been 18 graduating classes of those 162 inmates.

“Eighteen graduating classes — that’s saying a lot right there. We’ve even had the judges attend almost every single one of these graduations to show support,” Young said.

In May 2016, the jail launched an employment program headed by Tonya Randolph, Program Manager of ETHRA Workforce and Development, in which Randolph has worked closely with inmates in helping them obtain jobs once they are released because inmates in the past have faced difficulties finding jobs after serving some time in jail.

“Their backgrounds can make it difficult sometimes for them to get jobs,” Randolph said.

Also introduced in May 2016 was the National Career Readiness Exam, an examination Randolph helps proctor, that is an evidence based credentialing test that certifies an individual has central skills for workplace success.

“We have businesses in the community and throughout the state that are participating in this program. It’s also a national thing, so this is certainly a validated program,” Young said.

Since the career readiness exam was first administered in May 2016, a total of 41 inmates have taken the exam, and out of those 41, 39 have received “gold,” “bronze,” and “silver” certification.

According to Young, the facility has also had at least one individual who took the exam and scored “in the top ten highest scores out of thousands who have taken the exam.”

Young gave the following details about the MRT graduation rate of sentenced inmates: As of June 14, 2017, 126 total male program participants have participated in the program with 20 returns. Young noted that much of the returns can be attributed to the inmates who are transferred to other facilities.

“We are a 72 percent success rate among our male participants and a 28 percent recidivism rate. That’s saying a lot, but we need a little bit more time to get more realistic numbers,” said Young.

There have been a total of 56 female participants in the program and 19 returns, with 11 of those 19 being women who were transferred, making it a 50 percent success and a 50 percent recidivism rate for the female population, she said.

It was also reported that the jail’s electronic ankle bracelet monitoring program has thus far saved the county approximately $56,000.

“We need five years to really get some hard numbers. We just wanted you to see the bare bones of what we’re doing. It’s changing the lives of Anderson Countians. I see the changes in the individuals. I see the changes in the officers, and I’m hoping we’ll continue to see rewards in our community down the road,” stated Avery Johnson, Chief Jailer of the Anderson County Detention Facility, speaking of the program’s success.