A Q&A with Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office Director of Community Corrections, Renee Wilson
The Washtenaw County Community Corrections Department, part of the sheriff’s office, provides jail diversion options and assistance for people at all stages of the criminal justice process--from initial detention and court hearings to time spent in jail and community reentry.
We spoke with Renee Wilson, manager of Community Corrections, to learn more about the department and how funding from Washtenaw County’s Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage has supported its work, both inside the department and within our community.
Q. How would you describe the overall goals and functions of Community Corrections?
Wilson: Community Corrections provides alternatives to incarceration and treatment programs. These are alternative options for courts and probation departments to use, instead of sending someone to jail or having them detained as they go through the court process.
Q. How has Washtenaw County’s Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage impacted your department and the services you offer?
Because of the millage, we’ve been able to increase our staffing and programming to better meet our community’s needs. Demand and utilization of our services had been high and our caseloads were close to the point of being unmanageable.
Millage funding recently allowed us to hire a supervision agent, court service liaison, drug testing agent, reentry coordinator, and administrative coordinator. These positions ensure we are providing quality service, as well as the types of programming that the courts and the community find beneficial.
It’s really helped us to support the justice system at both ends, if you will; with pretrial services that keep people from staying in or even going to jail to post-sentencing or incarceration programs that help people successfully reintegrate and keep them from coming back to jail.
Q: Who are some of the main community partners you work with?
We obviously work very closely with the county’s district and circuit courts and provide supportive services and programming to all of our country’s probation offices. We have a very close working relationship with the prosecutor and public defender’s officers. We also partner with Dawn Farm and Home of New Vision (substance use disorder providers), Washtenaw Community College, and the Michigan Department of Corrections. So, not just local service organizations, but also statewide agencies.
What do you see as some of the most critical needs and remaining challenges around jail re-entry in Washtenaw County?
The biggest challenge we have is housing. Access to affordable, immediate housing upon a person’s release. And housing that doesn’t discriminate based on what your criminal background may be or the fact that you were just recently incarcerated. We’re also working on improving our follow-up work in the community; that type of warm hand-off and transitional care for people. We’ve done some really good things in the jail and have solid reentry programming. But we really need to work on filling in the gap between their release and making sure the person’s plan continues once they are in the community.
Q: What are some of the biggest plans for your department this year?
I’m really looking forward to bringing the reentry coordinator on board for reentry services and community-based work. This position will develop some pretty comprehensive plans of care and treatment in the jail, before people are discharged. And then they will be able to follow the person into the community and continue that high level of coordination. This ensures the person is able to access the types of things they need and can successfully reintegrate within the community.
Q: What else would you want the general public to know about your department?
I think it’s important for people to know about all of the work we’ve done to build a multifaceted, holistic reentry program and approach that is now up and running. And that we’re looking forward to our expanded work with community follow-up. For us, it’s really about providing opportunities for people; to identify their needs and make sure they are connected with the appropriate levels of care, services, and treatments. Our programming helps people stay in their community, as well as successfully reenter their community once released.