Initiative helps inmates transition back into the community

Published On: Nov 20 2012 10:47:43 PM CST   Updated On: Nov 20 2012 11:04:53 PM CST

There were 178 inmates in La Crosse County Jail Tuesday night.

Eventually, most of those inmates will make their way back into La Crosse area neighborhoods.

The goal of the Transition from Jail to Community initiative is to give them the resources to succeed and stay out of trouble when they get there.

La Crosse County Jail is collaborating with local organizations to connect inmates to important resources while they're still incarcerated.

"Without any kind of supports or connections, they're walking right back into the reality that they were in before they came in," said La Crosse County Jail Program Coordinator Mike Kiefer.

The Transition from Jail to Community initiative connects inmates with resources to help them find employment, education, housing, substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling while they're still in jail.

"If they're incarcerated and they make that connection with a provider, and meet with them one, two, three times while they're incarcerated, there's no real apprehension or nervousness about following up. That relationship has already been established," said Kiefer.

Ophelia's House is the YWCA of the Coulee Region's contribution to the initiative. It's an alternative to jail, where female offenders can focus on turning their lives around and connecting with the resources they need to help them do it.

"We're hoping for seamless transition. So there's no opportunity for them to get lost, if you will, or to not know where to go and then feel like they're already disconnected," said YWCA Executive Director Mary Kay Wolf.

One La Crosse woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, lived there for six months. She said it helped her find a new lifestyle, away from the drugs that got her in jail five times in five months back in 2010.

"You go back to the same friends. You're surrounded by the same activities and behaviors that you're used to and so it's easier to fall back into those patterns yourself and land yourself back in trouble,” she said. β€œIt was finally when I stayed at the Ophelia House that I was able to distance myself and kind of go a different direction with my life.”

Western Technical College is another one of the many community partnerships in this initiative. La Crosse County Jail is actually a satellite campus of Western Tech. Inmates can register at the jail as a student and then follow up with their education right across the street when they get released.

La Crosse started implementing the Transition from Jail to Community initiative three years ago. It was one of just six pilot communities across the country to put the initiative into practice.