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Community Mental Health - Millage News

Posted on: February 18, 2021

First year of reentry services grant focuses on new staff, housing supports

Older gentleman looks out the window of a small house, cut from cardboard.

In 2019, Washtenaw County received a $1 million, four-year grant from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Administration. The purpose: To address high recidivism rates--the rates of individuals returning to jail after release--among those with mental health and substance use disorders.

The grant, made possible by matching dollars provided by Washtenaw County’s Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage, allows for a considerable expansion of jail-based staff who provide reentry support and case management, as well as financial resources for clients to secure affordable housing.

The new Reentry Services Team at the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office includes two case managers, two peer support specialists, and Aaron Suganuma, a reentry coordinator who oversees the team and grant work.  

Suganuma comes to the team with years of social work experience in mental health and substance use disorder assessment, as well as lived experience as a formerly incarcerated person. He also served as the executive director for A Brighter Way--a local non-profit organization that supports individuals transitioning from jail back into the community.

Suganuma notes that 2020 was a planning period—hiring the right reentry services staff, building cross-sector partnerships (especially with housing organizations), and laying the foundation for successful implementation of the program. The program is based on the Transition from Jail to Community (TJC) Initiative—a model developed by the Justice Policy Center that outlines development, implementation and evaluation of jail-to-community transition. The model includes five targeted interventions: information and referrals, case management, formal services, informal support groups, and supervision. 

“This grant gives us the opportunity to staff the model,” Suganuma says. “While we engage and follow up with everyone we serve, this lets us offer extra assistance to 150 individuals with moderate to high substance use disorder needs and housing instability who typically pose the greatest risk for returning to jail.”

A major part of reentry work involves connecting formerly incarcerated individuals to housing resources—a task that is more challenging than it may appear. Many housing programs have long waitlists. Others have eligibility requirements that can pose significant challenges for previously incarcerated individuals. In the private market, housing costs and criminal background checks are major barriers for individuals who’ve recently been released from jail. 

Renee Casey, director of community corrections and correctional services, notes that “housing is often the primary need of the folks that we work with,” which makes this grant so valuable. The grant, says Casey, “lets us use money to specifically pay for housing vouchers when people are released, to maintain their placement for up to 12 months, and to give financial assistance while people are getting their feet underneath them.”

The team also works alongside the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, with key staff who cultivate relationships with landlords, an essential part of securing safe, stable housing for the program’s participants.

Suganuma notes that without the right supports in place, such as stable housing and supportive peers or professionals, individuals released from jail often end up in the same situations they were in before.

“We have a unique opportunity to promote stability with individuals in the community,” Suganuma says. “[With this grant], staff are following up with folks for nine months, up to a year after their release. It’s tremendous work to build capacity within the community to better meet our clients’ foundational needs. This is big, systems-level change.”

Washtenaw County also receives consistent support from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Administration. Specifically, the bureau provides technical advisors who will continue to meet monthly with Washtenaw County staff. Aside from monitoring the project’s progress, the advisors provide expertise in the event the county needs a consultation from subject matter experts or connections to other sites doing aligned reentry work around the country. 

Millage funding was used to support proposal development, and as a required match to secure the grant. https://www.washtenaw.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1134

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