Getting out of jail is just the beginning

This is the first in a series of reports about incarceration and rehabilitation in Hancock County.

ELLSWORTH — A person newly released from the Hancock County Jail may have served less than a year — sometimes as little as one day.

But getting out of jail can be the beginning of a long and difficult road. Obstacles abound for formerly incarcerated people, no matter how long they’ve served.

They may have lost their jobs as a result of their time in jail. They may have burned bridges with family members or friends, intentionally or not. They may have missed rent, utility or car payments because they weren’t working or didn’t have the ability to pay.

Individuals working within the Hancock County criminal justice system have evolved a number of programs aimed at keeping a lid on the recidivism rate — the rate at which former inmates end up back behind bars.

Programs offered by Hancock County’s criminal justice system, as well as by a network of state and nonprofit services, address many of the problems people encounter during and after incarceration. Work release for inmates, drug court to avoid jail time and find a job, ankle monitors instead of jail for pretrial detainees — all help to keep people out of the Hancock County Jail and connected to their daily lives.

But in a region that’s also facing a harsh epidemic of opiate abuse and addiction, the world outside the lockup can be a minefield.

Barbara Royal is the executive director of Open Door Recovery Center in Ellsworth, a nonprofit organization that treats the drug addiction and those with mental health issues. She said homelessness, lack of a job or education and family problems regularly face people who have been incarcerated.

“You walk out the door and you face all that,” Royal said, “the first thing you’re going to want to do is anesthetize … that’s what they need in order to cope, and then the vicious cycle starts again.”

Multiple programs provided with the support of the jail address the issue of income — or lack thereof. But housing can be a big problem for people in this area. The few programs that help people find stable housing are focused on individuals with a particular need.

Open Door, for example, operates Hills House, a residency program for mothers of young children and pregnant women who are receiving treatment for addiction.

The Emmaus Homeless Shelter, one block away from the jail on State Street in Ellsworth, has a waiting list for residents. The shelter can accommodate only 25 people at a time. According to Assistant Director Stacey Herrick, Emmaus staff will be notified in advance that someone’s getting out of jail. They’ll put the name of the person being released on their wait list.

If they don’t have room, Herrick said, they have a list of other shelters they can refer people to, including HOME Co-op in Orland.

Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 12 of this year, 514 people had posted bail at the Hancock County Jail. On that day, 54 people were held at the facility. Inmates were held for an average of 56 days. These figures come from Jail Administrator Tim Richardson.

He said a wave of pretrial detainees drove the average stay up this fall. In September, the average was 36 days.

In 2016, Royal and staff members from Open Door launched a program along with Eastern Maine Development Corp. (EMDC) to help jobless individuals get and keep jobs. Of the 22 people who have participated in that program, nearly half have been referred through the jail.

That program, called the Hancock County Recovery and Workforce Project, pulls participants from the jail, the outside community and Open Door. The hope is that those who have been in jail will be able to stay out.

“We totally believe in trying to match people to a profession they’re interested in and they’re going to be happy in,” said Loretta Alley, who facilitates the program for EMDC.

Although Jen Wright wasn’t referred through the jail, she’s a recent graduate of the workforce project. She is now receiving training in resume preparation and job interviewing.

Wright enrolled in the program after joining Hills House. At 37, she is an Army veteran who became addicted to heroin in 1999 after she finished her military service. After a year, she kicked the drug. Then she relapsed in 2009, and has been using off and on since.

She has a young son, and five months ago she decided she would get clean for his sake.

“It tells me how strong I really am,” she said of that choice,” and how much my family really means to me.”

Wright has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a focus on finance. She said the workforce program provided her with the confidence to look for a job.

“I think just having someone like Loretta standing behind you and supporting you is encouraging,” she said. “I think it makes it less scary and lets you know you can have a job and a future.

“In a lot of cases, it’s easier to fall back into addiction — because that’s what you know — than it is to fight and get a job,” Wright said.

The workforce program as it exists now doesn’t address addiction, homelessness or lack of transportation. Even with a strong rehabilitation and job training focus, there are still major factors that formerly incarcerated people have to contend with in Hancock County before they can find and maintain stability.

Judy Garvey, the Blue Hill-based director of Volunteers for Hancock Jail Residents, traveled to Hancock County’s jail weekly for 17 years. She said the existence of any programs is good.

“They’re doing the best they can under the circumstances, and they’re more open to programs than other jails,” Garvey said.

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.

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