New program helps former inmates stay out of jail

There’s a new program helping former drug addicts stay out of jail.

In 2016, around 1,300 people were booked in the La Crosse County jail on drug charges.

There are currently 21 participants in the Fresh Start program.

Inmates who have a history of substance abuse and a mental health disorder can work with Fresh Start to keep clean and stay healthy when they’re released from jail.

Tristine Bauman, a social worker with Fresh Start, often works with people who are at rock bottom

“Most people that we come across when we screen for the program have lost hope. They feel that the doors have been closed so many times and they don’t have any support or anybody rooting for them,” Bauman said.

Her team at Fresh Start shows up-with a helping hand.

“Just having somebody show hope and compassion and instill hope again goes a long way,” Bauman said.

They start with a simple plan.

“We start with our basic needs, housing for example, and then we create plans around where they’re going to stay, Whether they’re in shelter or they’re in a transitional living placement or they’re moving back into their own place,” Bauman said.

Once those basic needs are met, they move on to mental health and substance abuse.

“Do you need to see a psychiatrist, do you need to continue with your therapist, are you taking medications, etcetera. Same thing (with) substance abuse “Where are you at?” Bauman said.

Fresh Start acts as a liaison guiding participants to all of the services they need.

“We work at building that support network to help them reach the goals that they want to obtain,” Bauman said.

One key partner is the Integrated Support and Recovery Services.

Christin Skolnik, the interim manager at Integrated Support and Recovery Services, said, “We’re beginning to see really nice outcomes.”

They help participants in a number of areas including therapy, both during and after jail.

“It’s a rapport thing. It’s hard for individuals to really open up and begin therapy. That can be a hard process for somebody, so it’s really nice when you can build that connection, build that trust with somebody and begin that process in the jail and know that you’re still able to follow along with that person,” Skolnik said.

They also help take care of any financial needs.

“Once an inmate is released, they can sit down with an economic support specialist if they need food share, or need other kind of Medicaid things,” Skolnik said.

Even though the program just started working with participants in November, they’re already seeing progress.

“We’ve had participants say along the way, ‘I never would have gone to treatment if it wasn’t for the fresh start team supporting me,'” Bauman said.

In addition to the Integrated Support and Recovery Services, Fresh Start works with the Department of Corrections, Family and Children’s Center, Western Technical College and the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department, among other organizations.

One of the biggest challenges is getting all of those moving parts to work together.

To help with that, all of those organizations will meet with each other and participants to discuss the best way to help every individual.

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