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Harford sheriff announces THRIVE initiative to help reduce number of inmates returning to jail

Harford sheriff announces THRIVE initiative to help reduce number of inmates returning to jail
Speaking inside an empty cell block at the Harford County Detention Center, Harford Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler talks about the new THRIVE initiative aimed at helping put inmates on a better path to success once they are released. (Erika Butler/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun)

About 40 percent of the inmates who leave the Harford County Detention Center return within three years, but Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler would like to see that number lower.

On Thursday, the sheriff introduced the new THRIVE — Treatment, Health, Re-entry, Insurance, Value, Education — program at the jail aimed at reducing the recidivism rate.

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“It’s a better package of the services that can be offered to those who come into our custody and care,” Gahler said during a news conference inside one of the empty cell blocks in the detention center expansion in Bel Air.

“The services are aimed at meeting [the inmates’] specific needs, down to the individual, and we’re even providing skills to better prepare them for eventual release and return into our community.”

The Harford County Detention Center, located on Rock Spring Road north of downtown Bel Air, has an average daily population of about 400 inmates.

Discussion of the THRIVE program began earlier this year and it was piloted for three months beginning April 1.

In the three months before initiating THRIVE, 180 inmates were referred to one or more programs or services. During the three months of the pilot program, the number of referrals improved by about 75 percent to 315, Gahler said.

Most of the services in the THRIVE program, save for one or two, are already offered at the detention center, but the new initiative puts them under one umbrella so staff and inmates can work together “to choose the services and programs that will help them transition back into the community and put them on what we hope is a solid, crime-free path,” Gahler said.

Among the programs offered to inmates through nearly 40 partnerships with community groups, especially churches, are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, anger workshops, chaplain mentoring, drug awareness, GED classes, and mediation and conflict resolution.

Most of it is about timing. Inmates had been offered the programs upon their arrival at the detention center, but Gahler said that may not be the best time.

“They’re often impaired or angry when first brought into the facility, often not making the best life choices at that point in time,” and they often reject help, he said.

Harford County is already below the national three-year recidivism rate, which is 48 percent, but sheriff’s officials believe these efforts can lower that number even more.

While re-entry into society begins when an inmate enters the detention center doors, programs to help them do so successfully need to be available at other times, said Katie Borig, program director at the detention center.

After an inmate goes through the booking process, they can select the services they think will help. They also have the opportunity a few days later during their classification intake to sign up.

“If they missed out on the first opportunity or decided at the beginning they didn’t want to sign up but now they do, they have a second opportunity,” Borig said. “It really increases the availability of programs at our detention center.”

It’s not a good thing when someone has to come into the detention center, Gahler said, but he wants family and loved ones of inmates to know that if they come into the care and custody of the facility, “it is not just a place where we are going to place them into a cell, lock the door and forget about them until they’re released.

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"That has never happened here.”

Gahler said he often hears there isn’t enough time to have an impact on the inmates because the stays at the detention center are relatively short, up to about 18 months.

“Does that mean shouldn’t try something?” Gahler said. “Maybe a day, maybe a minute will make a change in someone’s life, help them moving forward. Why not take that time and effort because they’re here anyway?”

Keeping people from going back to the criminal path only benefits the community, Gahler said.

A lower recidivism rate means less crime and a safer Harford County community, he said.

“If they don’t return [to jail] and they become more productive members of our community, then that benefits us in a lower crime rate,” Gahler said. “A lower recidivism rate means they’re not coming back in and we’re not having to deal with the same person over again. That’s how it improves public safety for our citizens.”

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