Minnesota’s Dakota County Jail held a resource fair last month, with 19 schools, churches, treatment programs, transitional houses, and state and county work force centers seeking to draw county inmates toward the straight and narrow, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. Phil Luna of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety helped more than three dozen inmates look up their unpaid motor vehicle fines on a laptop computer. That’s must-have information if they intend to apply for new driver’s licenses when they get out, a virtual prerequisite for finding a job and rebuilding an interrupted life.
A resource fair is an innovation for a county jail, which is a shorter-term holding facility for defendants still awaiting trial and inmates sentenced to no more than a year and a day Transitional services for county inmates are fleeting to nonexistent. That’s partly because of the transient nature of the population – a defendant may spend just a night or even a few hours behind bars before making bail. The average stay in Dakota County is eight days. Lester Harris, a case manager at the Recovery Resource Center in Minneapolis, said: “This (fair is being offered) before they even plead guilty,” Harris said. “Some of these guys won’t even get convicted, but they still need the services. This is real huge.” A recent study by the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work found that a year after release, the recidivism rate among inmates from the Allegheny County Jail had fallen by half after the jail began offering them services during incarceration and referrals to community organizations on their way out the door. The annual savings to the public in reduced victimization and public safety enforcement was in the millions of dollars.