Harford Aims To Reduce Number of Repeat Criminal Offenders
A Who's Who of law enforcement, courts and community leaders attended a symposium on addressing recidivism.
The Harford County Detention Center is expected to reach maximum capacity by 2020 based on current projections—unless there is a change in inmate population.
With no more room to build at current jail's site, and usually a decade needed for researching and building a new facility, the clock is ticking.
"We really can't wait until 2020," Harford County Sheriff L. Jesse Bane said. "I need to do something as sheriff of Harford County."
One thing Bane hopes will impact the jail's population in a positive way is reducing the number of repeat criminal offenders. With that goal in mind, Harford County's first re-entry summit, which took place Thursday morning at Harford Community College, was the first step in the process.
"There's no reason [addressing recidivism is] not important," Bane said following the summit.
Bane explained it's not cost effective to arrest someone, keep them detained for a short period, then release them onto the streets only to go through the same process a few months later.
"What we need to do is see if there's some way to reverse that," Bane said.
Thursday was the first step in making the county's approach toward helping released inmates successfully re-enter the community more comprehensive.
Bane described the policies in place now as a "shotgun approach."
He said there are a number of organizations in the county offering different services to newly released inmates, but he hopes to form a plan to help the groups work together more efficiently.
"Let's take a holistic approach and a system approach," Bane said.
Bane said it's important to address the root problem of addiction and referenced the recent overdose death of a detention center inmate. Bane said the inmate died of causes related to addiction.
"We should have something out there to deal with that," Bane said.
He added that instead of using the jail as a mental hospital or drug program he would like the county to "use the jail for what it's designed for."
Getting offenders the right help could limit the inmate population to those committing serious crimes.
Beth Hendrix with Harford County Department of Community Service said one of the big goals of the summit and moving forward with workshops, is collaboration.
"Government can't do it alone," Hendrix said. "Let's all take a piece of this puzzle."
Hendrix said that at the end of the workshop process, those involved in law enforcement, the health department, the school system and churches will all know who does what for people coming out of jail. She also hopes to identify and address any gaps in services.
"I am really happy we have a sheriff who gets it," Hendrix said.
Harford County State's Attorney Joe Cassilly says reducing repeat offenders means not only helping the criminal, but it also prevents creating new victims.
"The point is if you deal with recidivism, there's going to be fewer victims and fewer witnesses taking off work for court," Cassilly said.
Keynote speaker Dr. Erik Roskes, Assistant Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said addressing issues of housing, employment, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, childcare and family needs and physical health will help reduce recidivism.
"To me the message of this meeting is that Harford County is addressing these problems head on," Roskes said.