Metro Corrections backpack program seeks to help persistent inmates stay out of jail
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A few months ago, Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton looked out a window in the jail’s staff lounge and noticed an inmate who had just been released.
The inmate was wearing jail scrubs with no shirt, carrying his belongings in a ripped bag as he shuffled across Sixth Street, where he was almost hit by a vehicle, Bolton recalled.
“It struck me that we have a huge problem that we really need to tackle,” Bolton said Tuesday, referring to inmates leaving Metro Corrections in the same, if not worse, conditions as when they arrived, especially those who are homeless or mentally ill.
And, after attending a conference in Chicago and observing how the Cook County Jail deals with departing inmates, Bolton came up with a few ideas to help with what Metro Corrections calls its “Familiar Faces” -- typically mentally ill, often homeless inmates who cycle in and out of the jail dozens, if not hundreds of times on minor charges.
As of July, inmates began participating in a program in which they are given a backpack with clothes, clean socks and underwear, shoes, hygiene items, bus tickets, medication, Medicaid enrollment and resource handbooks on where to get help.
In addition, for inmates with no place to go, jail officers will drive them to Seven Counties Services or some other agency working with Metro Corrections on the program, which is called FACT – Familiar Faces Action and Community Transition Program.
“When they leave, they have everything they need, including a warm bed, to transition back into the community,” Bolton said.
The program -- the first of its kind in Kentucky -- ensures the inmates at least start out of jail taking their medications and are able to work with one of the agencies involved to get refills, hopefully slowing down the recidivism rate of inmates who are dumped out of jail only to be arrested days or hours later.
“These are people who historically had nothing going on and had no place to go,” Bolton said. “We were doing a horrendous job here.”
After staying in Metro Corrections, inmates often would leave without medications or any contact with someone who could help them.
“Invariably they would begin to decompensate almost immediately,” Bolton said. “They didn’t have a warm bed to sleep in and they quit taking their meds. And then we wondered, ‘Why do they keep coming back’?”
The program is mostly targeted towards a group of about 100 inmates who repeatedly cycle through the jail, but will also include homeless or mentally ill inmates who want to participate, according to Metro Corrections. These inmates are typically arrested on charges of panhandling, public intoxication, shoplifting and trespassing.
“I think discharge planning is a very important step for the local jail to do,” said Nina Moseley, chief operating officer of Wayside Christian Mission. “There are folks who need certain medications and, if they’re put out without that, it’s a struggle.”
Bolton created a jail position for a social worker to run the program, getting inmates into the program and tracking their outcome.
In July, 19 inmates were released in the FACT program, with 12 given backpacks and taken to a shelter. All but two of those left with medication. In addition, seven more inmates left with backpacks.
The social worker in charge of FACT, Mane’ Martisoyan, said it is too soon to tell if the program is working and keeping inmates out of jail.
However, she said the inmates involved in the program have been excited and appreciative.
“Their faces just light up,” she said. “Like, ‘Really, you can do this for me?’”
The backpacks, which cost $6 apiece, are paid for through money inmates pay into the jail commissary, a sort of general store in the jail. And the backpacks are filled with items from the commissary and clothes from donations and a clothing bank the jail started recently.
And for every bus ticket bought by Metro Corrections and given to inmates, TARC donates another.
“It’s very, very low cost,” Bolton said.
Louisville Metro Police have been told about the program and, if officers believe an arrest must be made instead of taking alternative resources such a shelter or detox, Metro Corrections has asked if police will bring the backpacks back to the jail so it can be used again.
Steve Durham, a spokesman for Metro Corrections, said police will know when they see the backpack that the person is in the jail’s program and will have a little more information when they assess the situation.
LMPD Chief Steve Conrad praised the program on Wednesday, saying the backpacks would help officer identify people who may need help rather than just a trip to jail.
"The idea is to look for ways to help these low-level offenders without taking people to jail," Conrad said. "Clearly these folks need help."
The jail currently has about 50 backpacks but in coming months will be looking to expand the program to help more people, including those who have drug addiction issues.
“We are releasing people to the street who need continued detox services, continued treatment services,” Bolton said. The department is looking to create another position for someone to deal with those inmates leaving jail who have had drug addiction issues.
And while the program is new to Kentucky, Bolton said he has already had inquiries from other jailers across the state.
“I think something like this has the potential to replicate itself in other places,” he said.
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