SB91 praised for re-entry funding
Since the start of a special session Monday, public safety has been the primary focus of much discussion in Juneau.
While Senate Bill 91 has been widely criticized -- including by the Anchorage Assembly -- for what it didn’t do in the way of treatment programs, some lawmakers say one of its successes, is the money it put into re-entry programs.
"There’s been a lot of discussion about a full repeal of SB91, but if we repeal SB 91 we’ll lose a lot of really important efforts that are designed to reduce recidivism, that includes the re-entry programs," said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, Chair of the Health and Social Services Committee.
Re-entry programs can help people released from prison find jobs, housing and provide an opportunity for peer support.
For the last few years, Second Chance was the only re-entry program in Juneau.
"And people come to us with all different needs, but you know, the thing in common is that they are most basic needs. Just even being able to use a phone or check their email," said Talia Eames, the program's coordinator.
Eames says the program, which started in 2015, launched with a focus on education and vocational training, but quickly morphed into a resource hub for people coming out of prison.
"When somebody comes to you and they don’t have anything, and they need to know, 'where can I go to get clothes to get to an interview or transportation, or food or housing' -- when all of those needs need to be addressed, you’ve got to do something," Eames said. "Otherwise, you know, people go back to this lifestyle that wasn’t doing them any good, that wasn’t doing the community any good."
Now, the second chance program, that helped hundreds get back on their feet, is closing its door, after losing federal funding.
That’s where Senate Bill 91 comes in. The measure provided some state money for re-entry programs, with a focus on bringing outside resources inside the prison.
Funding set aside in SB91 created positions for four case managers statewide, like Michael Van Linden, in Juneau.
Like second chance, Van Linden helps people transition to life outside of prison, but he starts coaching them three months before they leave prison and continues to do so for six months after they are released.
"We look at their risks and needs, and then we develop goals based on that," said Van Linden, adding that he and his clients work as a team.
"Some of these guys have been in here for a long time, they don’t fit in the same clothes they fit in when they came in. So, they don’t have clothes when they go out. They don’t have shoes when they go out," Van Linden said. "They don’t have really just basic needs in the beginning, and then housing is a real big struggle."
Having goals can help keep them off the streets and get them back on their feet -- a struggle Van Linden has lived through.
"I care about these guys because I’ve been there. I know what it’s like and it’s tough," said Van Linden, who served a month at Lemon Creek Correctional Center for a felony DUI.
Supporters of SB91 say case managers like Van Linden are an example of what the bill got right because part of public safety starts in prison.
As for programs on the outside, like Second Chance, Spohnholz says there may be more ways to keep their doors from closing.
"I think if they have great outcomes, we’d be really likely to entertain additional funding for that kind of a program here in Juneau," said Spohnholz.
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