SIDNEY — The Shelby County Jail has several programs in place to help inmates stand firmly on their feet when they are released.
“The jail is focused a lot on rehabilitation and also offering programs to prisoners that they can take while they’re incarcerated, so when they get out of jail they have more hope, and they have the opportunity to do more within the community,” Sgt. Karla Pleiman said while filling in for Sheriff John Lenhart for his weekly column.
Programs offered to inmates in jail are Reading for a Healthy Lifestyle, a financial literacy class and a writing for job readiness class provided through the Upper Valley Career Center for Adult Education. A General Educational Development program also is offered to inmates, as well as workplace expectations class and a budget and finance class that are offered through Job and Family Services. Goodwill Easter Seals provides jobs skills and resume writing classes to inmates.
“We have an average of about 160 prisoners, so in order for all the inmates to have an opportunity, we offer classes at numerous times,” Pleiman said.
Other programs offered are Summit University, which is a six-week certificate program centered on food preparation and sanitation, with an option to take the ServSafe test online, so inmates can have a certificate before they leave jail. There are also religious programs, such as the Gideons and ordained pastors, who come to the jail twice a week and volunteer their time.
“On average, for the pastors, anywhere from 20 to 25 inmates will come down and meet with the pastors, so there is a good response for that, they enjoy that,” Pleiman said.
There are re-entry programs that coincide with rehabilitation programs in the jail. The workforce program allows inmates who meet the program requirements to find a job for when they are released.
“I work with several different manufacturers and a couple of different restaurants within Shelby County to help find employment. If they don’t have a job before they come to jail, they are required to take classes before I help them find employment, to prepare them for the workforce,” Pleiman said.
The workforce program coincides, at times, with the Medication Assisted Treatment Program, which helps inmates fight addiction to heroin, opioids and alcohol. The Family Resource Center helps manage the MAT program within the jail and also does individual drug and alcohol counseling, group counseling and mental health counseling.
“The MAT program has been in place for probably three years. The workforce program has been in place since 2010. Many of the classes we’ve revamped and worked with Upper Valley and Job and Family Services, and we’ve gotten new programs in here probably within the last three or four years. The GED program has been here for over 20 years,” Pleiman said. “The goal is to reduce recidivism rates with all of these classes that we offer them, to help make them come out of jail better than they were when they came in.”
Some of the re-entry programs lead to the Star House, which places inmates who meet the criteria at the Star House so that they can continue their recovery after being released from jail in a safe environment.
“It’s a very aggressive program and very structured. We’ve already had two clients graduate from the Star House program, and so far they are very successful. We have nine in the Star House currently, and we have four more prisoners that are getting ready to go over to the Star House, so hopefully by the end of February we’ll have up to 15 people in the Star House,” Pleiman said.
There are also jail incentive programs, such as a pizza program that is offered Sunday nights for inmates with good behavior. A small profit, between $2 and $4, is made per pizza. All the money made goes into an inmate trust fund, which goes back into the inmates to help with expenses like work boots, clothes, winter coats, bicycles, birth certificates and more.
Mental health has seen a significant increase in the jail in the past several years. There is a mental health counselor in the jail for 40 hours every week.
“He is busy nonstop. People incarcerated with mental health issues have increased significantly over the past 10 years. I’ve worked in the jails for 26 years so I’ve definitely seen the increase from when I first started to now and the effects the drugs have had on the prisoner population and how it has affected their mental health. They require a lot more services now than they used to,” Pleiman said.
The Sidney Daily News conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.