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County re-entry program to get staffing boost

Probation, parole officers will soon be added to corrections department

Washington County will soon expand services that help people adjust to life outside jail or prison.

The Community Corrections Department will add two probation and parole officers, and some recovery and employment mentors, to help more of the 3,600 offenders the agency supervises.

“Recovery mentors have been important to people getting back on track in the community,” said Dennis Erickson, the agency’s assistant director.

Erickson described some of their work Wednesday, Sept. 9, at a meeting of the Washington County Re-entry Council, a volunteer group representing a number of providers of community services.

The council dates its existence to 2008, before Oregon lawmakers in 2013 set aside $58 million for counties to provide services that keep people from returning to jail or prison. Lawmakers did so as part of an effort to limit the state prison system population to its current level at 14,500 — and the higher costs associated with the state system.REV. CLIFFORD JONES

Although many counties have such councils, Martha Duncan-Perez said the council in Washington County is different. She said the council has many provider members who have firsthand knowledge of the issues faced by those re-entering society, because either they or people close to them have experienced those issues.

“We have the welcome sign out for people who are currently incarcerated to sit in with us, so they can understand what we are doing,” said Duncan-Perez, who has led the council since 2012. “As they go out and re-enter, they might like to go out and join our efforts.”

Duncan-Perez works for a provider of outpatient drug and alcohol treatment services.

Erickson said in addition to addictions recovery, housing and employment are big challenges to those re-entering society.

Housing is particularly difficult in Washington County because of rising rents in the Portland metropolitan area.

“Especially for re-entry people, we are desperately in need for safe places for them,” Duncan-Perez said.

Erickson noted his agency is working with providers to place former inmates into jobs that pay slightly more than Oregon’s current minimum wage of $9.25 per hour — and extra help to ensure that most of them stay employed.

“That is what is going to move people forward,” he said.

Oregon lawmakers set aside a total of $40 million in the current two-year budget, down from $58 million two years ago, to help counties with such services.MARTHA DUNCAN-PEREZ

Erickson also spoke about the five-year property tax levy on the Nov. 3 ballot (Measure 34-236) that will maintain support for an array of public safety services, although as a public employee, he was limited to providing information about it.

While services are important to help former inmates, the Rev. Clifford Jones said they also need something else.

Jones is the pastor of the Light My Way campus of Sonrise Church in Hillsboro, where he has been for a few months. He says he averages 60 to 70 people at a weekly service.

He once was an inmate at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, which had been known as one of the nation’s most dangerous prisons. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2005.

Jones said a two-decade-long effort, based on a religious approach by its warden, has resulted in a dramatic reduction in all types of assaults at the maximum-security prison. A recent article in The Atlantic magazine about the prison said there were 1,346 such assaults in 1992, but just 343 last year.

Jones was part of the religion-based effort to help reduce violence at the Louisiana penitentiary.

“My quest is to get men and women transformed from the inside out,” Jones said at the council meeting. “That is the only way they are going to stay out (of prison). Rehabilitation is a moral issue. A man has got to change inside before his actions are reflected outside.”