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City Council to hear how inmate recidivism reduction program is going

Charlottesville City Council will receive a report Monday on the fruits of a program it established last year to reduce inmate recidivism.

The council will hear a report on the Home to Hope program during its virtual meeting.

The program helps former inmates navigate life after release by connecting them to a peer support specialist who has experience with the criminal justice system. It aims to reduce recidivism, which refers to the likelihood someone will return to jail after being released.

Among other services, specialists help former inmates get identification, connect with probation services and obtain stable housing. The staff report says the program has offered $53,854 in support, with most of the money, $29,264, going to housing assistance.

In February 2019, the council approved $405,000 to establish Home to Hope by creating a training program, hiring staff and providing support funding.

Eight people graduated from the training program and four were offered full-time positions with the city, starting in October 2019, according to the staff report. Others were given employment opportunities with The Fountain Fund, Piedmont House, On Our Own and the Downtown Job Center.

Specialists connect with people prior to release from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail or Virginia Department of Corrections facilities through one-on-one meetings, peer recovery support groups and Wellness Recovery Action Plan classes. Clients also are taken through walk-ins and partner agencies.

Participants work with the specialist to determine what they need to succeed and how to measure that success.

As of Sept. 15, the program has enrolled 235 people and had 159 active participants. Of those, 65% are male and 34% are female.

About three-quarters of the people are African American, 20% are white and 2% are Hispanic.

Participants range in age from 21 to 64, with an average age of 39.

Nearly half of the enrollees joined within six months of their release. About a third joined more than a year after release.

Peer navigators have helped 41 participants to obtain employment and 40 to secure stable housing.

Of the participants, only 10 have been reincarcerated, with three since being released again. The numbers translate to a 4.2% recidivism rate. In comparison, the report says that the overall recidivism rate at ACRJ ranged from 42.2% in fiscal 2017 to 38.5% in fiscal 2019.

The report says the coronavirus pandemic has significantly increased the initiative’s caseload and a fifth navigator will need to be hired. The position was included in the original council allocation.

Prior to the report, the council is expected to bless a $20,000 donation to the program from Red Light Management. According to a staff report, the program’s staff met with the company in January and it was interested in providing support to the initiative.

Justice disparities

In other business, the council will receive an update from Mayor Nikuyah Walker on the establishment of a task force to address Black residents’ disproportional representation in the criminal justice system.

During its last regular meeting, the council gave its support for the task force to review recommendations from a study commissioned by the city and Albemarle County. According to Monday’s meeting agenda, Walker is calling the task force the Imagine a Just Cville Working Group.

The report, released earlier this year, found that Black residents in the city and county are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and face disparity at nearly every level.

The consulting group recommended making a formal request to the Virginia Department of Corrections for probation data; requesting access to magistrate data from the Supreme Court of Virginia; evaluating available police department data on arrests, separated by calls for service and officer-initiated interactions; investing in an evaluation of legal representation; and conducting file reviews around bail and sentencing.

The group also recommended the city determine ways to engage the community in evaluating and monitoring action steps by giving them power to influence the process; formally convene a task force to report to the council on a regular basis; and invest in and encourage improved data collection.

Walker plans to start providing updates from the task force’s meetings starting Nov. 16 and then at least once every other month.

City of Promise

Also on Monday’s agenda is an update on an education initiative the council established in 2012 that is working its way toward independence.

The City of Promise is aimed at increasing academic achievement and empowerment in the 10th and Page, Westhaven and Starr Hill neighborhoods.

The city provided funds to support the salary of an executive director. In 2017, the organization’s advisory board decided to seek designation as a nonprofit and move toward financial independence. The city is reducing its funding by 25% a year, starting this year, until it reaches zero.

The organization holds several programs to support children and adults.

“Anytime we do something, when we can, we try to do it for everyone,” Executive Director Mary Coleman said.

Coleman said City of Promise is working with other organizations to support families during the city school division’s all-virtual start to the semester.

Coleman said kindergarteners through sixth-graders are served at its Page Street location and seventh-graders through high-schoolers are served on 10th Street.

City of Promise provides transportation to some families that use the local YMCA or Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia to support their students.

City of Promise is conducting a formal evaluation of its impact, according to a staff report.

The report says enrollees in the program have made “significant gains” in math and reading tests.

Over the past five years, the Standards of Learning pass rates increased by 10% in math and 24% in reading. City of Promise outperformed Black students as a who by 21% in math and 27% in reading.

Relief funding

The council also will hold a public hearing and vote on allocating about $4.12 million from the coronavirus stimulus package.

The money was allocated to the city from the state based on population and must be used for direct responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The city received the same amount this summer.

The council conducted a first reading of the proposal in a special meeting prior to a work session on its Strategic Plan last week.

The funds are broken down in a relatively similar way to the first round of relief.

About $1.3 million is for operational modifications to enhance safety. Deputy City Manager Paul Oberdorfer said about $1 million is for the school division and the rest will be used for further work at city facilities.

The Office of Economic Development will use $825,000 for a second round of small-business relief grants.

The city will use $639,000 for nutritional support, housing services, personal protective equipment and operations at Westhaven and an emergency resource hotline.

About $381,000 will provide employee support for frontline workers in the police and fire departments, Sheriff’s Office and Department of Social Services.

Of the remaining funds, $377,400 will be used for technology improvements and $625,000 will be held in a contingency reserve.

Strategic Plan input

During Monday’s meeting, residents can provide input on the city’s Strategic Plan update.

The plan is a high-level document outlining the council’s vision and goals over a three-year period. It is mostly abstract, with the 2018-20 document including goals of an inclusive, self-sufficient community; healthy and safe city; beautiful environment; strong, diversified economy; and a responsive organization.

The council last week held the first of three planned work sessions to discuss the plan.

The meeting was mostly broad strokes, but officials touched on the need to update technology and address aging infrastructure.

The council’s next work session will start with reviewing the five guiding principles of its existing plan: leadership, trust, creativity, excellence and respect.

At the work session, the council bounced around a few words to replace the existing structure, including stewardship, racial equity, wellness, innovation, success, accountability, integrity and collaboration.

The next work session on the Strategic Plan is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 20.

The City Council’s regular meeting will be held virtually at 6:30 p.m. Monday. To register to participate, visit charlottesville.gov/zoom.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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