Nationwide, there is roughly a 50/50 chance that a criminal offender commits another crime or violates their probation within three years of his or her release from jail. This is known as the recidivism rate.
In Harford County, that rate is about 40 percent, approximately 8 percentage points better than the national average, but certainly a rate that could be improved upon.
And that is the goal of Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler’s THRIVE initiative, which was officially introduced last week.
“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 at the Harford County Detention Center announcing the program. “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 THRIVE — Treatment, Health, Re-entry, Insurance, Value, Education — program is really just a better organizing of the 40 or so services that were already offered at the detention center.
The initiative puts the programs and services offered to inmates, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, anger workshops, chaplain mentoring, drug awareness, GED classes, and mediation and conflict resolution, under one umbrella.
It also increases the frequency and the timing of when these services are offered.
Traditionally, inmates are offered these programs upon their arrival at the detention center, but these individuals are often at their lowest point when they arrive at the jail. Some may still be impaired, for example, or angry about the situation.
So it makes sense for detention center staff to offer programs again later, when they may have a better chance of reaching the individual after that person has had time to reflect.
Thus far, the THRIVE initiative seems to be working, at least as far as getting more inmates connected to services.
During a three-month test run beginning in April, the number of referrals among the roughly 400 inmates in Harford County improved by about 75 percent.
Jail is supposed to be a deterrent to crime, and for some people, not wanting to return to jail is enough to straighten them out. For others, there may be underlying factors that drove them to commit the crime in the first place, and those same factors may be what leads to them committing another crime once they are released.
For example, at any given time, an overwhelming number of inmates in the Harford County Detention Center — or any other jail across the country — are dealing with some sort of underlying drug or alcohol addiction issues. Other crimes might be financially motivated related to a person’s employment or lack thereof.
Jail might not be the ideal environment to address those issues, but let’s be honest, these individuals now have plenty of time on their hands to make improvements to their lives through the various programs offered. Better to use jail as an opportunity than simply wasting away in a cell, counting the days until their release.
Make no mistake, we’re not advocating being soft on crime, particularly violent offenders. However, when it comes to petty thefts and other misdemeanors, we would much rather see these individuals use their 18 months or so in the detention center to improve themselves and become productive, contributing members of society once they are out.
Doing so improves public safety by reducing crime and also reduces the amount of taxpayer money being spent on housing and feeding the same offenders over and over while they are incarcerated.
Time will tell if the THRIVE initiative is successful, but we applaud the sheriff for making the effort to reduce recidivism in Harford County and giving inmates here an opportunity to better themselves.