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Assisted re-entry moves forward

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They're coming back to Clallam County and will be helped to successfully re-enter society.

Kathy Wahto, executive director of Serenity House, said plans are moving forward to hire someone to facilitate homeless ex-offenders' re-entry into Clallam County after their release from prison.

Wahto said Serenity House is one of several county organizations in the Homelessness Task Force, which became involved because of the risk of ex-offenders being homeless.

She said there is a high probability that a person released from jail into a homeless environment will have problems finding a place to live, employment and a stable environment.

"If we set people up to fail, then can we blame them for not assimilating back into regular society?" Wahto asked. "The burden on the judicial system, the local law enforcement, local jails and local hospitals becomes huge if we are continually releasing people into homeless and substandard conditions."

The state Legislature passed a bill in 2006 requiring prisoners to be released in the county where they were convicted. There are exceptions, including if a inmate's family moves from the area. The Serenity House project will work with a small population.

"We would not be coordinating the release of all ex-offenders entering the county," Wahto said. "This project has a much smaller scope than that. (The state Department of Corrections) will only coordinate with us on those prisoners that have no home to go to."

The program is expected to serve 20 people a year initially.

Wahto said successful re-entry into a community is essential to an ex-offender's ability to stay off drugs or refrain from committing crime. Housing, employment and behavioral or substance treatment will be key elements to successful re-entry and will be coordinated by the new employee, if sponsored by the state.

"We are trying to get a contract with the state," Wahto said. "If accepted, we would work closely with the (Department of Corrections) staff to direct those being released from jail or prison into housing and services."

"The state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development is the coordinating agency and the nitty gritty of which service agency does what hasn't been ironed out yet, but it will be a countywide project," Wahto said.

"This program will not attract convicts, or criminals or anything like that to the county, it will handle people being released to Clallam County. The ex-offenders have little choice where they are released," said Wahto.

Will Graham, assistant director for housing at the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, said the results from different re-entry programs funded by the state will be tracked and analyzed. Graham said the state Legislature has not directed his agency to conduct offender re-entry programs in all of the state's counties.

"Washington has a lot of people in prison," he said. "There are legislators that are trying to match re-entry programs to scale with the number of ex-offenders coming back to the counties, but whether or not that moves forward before results come back from our analysis of current pilot programs is something we will have to wait and see."

Graham said it is likely to be far less expensive to fund re-entry programs than to pay costs related to recidivism.

Serenity's application to the state came after a proposal was dropped to combine the re-entry coordinator with a part-time Clallam County veterans assistant position.
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