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Vanderburgh work release program takes on new direction

May 16, 2016

Kirshawn Harvey knows what gets him into trouble, but that hasn’t always stopped him. A habitual traffic offender, Harvey is serving a two-year sentence in Vanderburgh County’s work release program.

“I tend to get in trouble mainly for driving. My issue is an addiction. I can't stop driving,” he said.

But Harvey is confidant he is finally learning how to conquer his problem and is acquiring life skills that will help him stay out of trouble for good when he gets out. That wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago, he said.

Until last year, the work release program was little more than a part-time jail operated by the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office under the moniker of Community Corrections. Inmates would go to their jobs and then come back again to wait out the boredom until their next work shift.

However, since July 2015 the program has undergone a metamorphosis under a cooperative agreement between the sheriff’s office and Vanderburgh County’s treatment courts. That is when Superior Judge Wayne Trockman and Circuit Court Judge David Kiely took over daily operations and rechristened it Therapeutic Work Release to reflect its new focus on rehabilitation.

Sheriff David Wedding remains responsible for security operations and maintenance at the facility, which is housed in the same building as the jail.

“This has evolved big time from the way it was,” Wedding said.

Harvey, who also spent time in the facility in 2008, recalls it as a much different place then.

“It was a lot rougher. Things were sort of all over the place. Nobody listened. People tended to break the rules,” he said. “Nothing was going on there to motivate people. After a while it tends to get frustrating.”

Harvey recalled that there was nothing for the participants to do and the result was often trouble.

Trockman and Kiely, however, saw opportunity.

“We thought all that idle time could be turned into productive time. They are all here anyway. We've got their undivided attention,” Trockman said. “We’re trying to prepare them for their return to society.”

Applying the same therapeutic concepts as Vanderburgh County’s treatment courts, the overhauled work release program offers participants a wide range of behavioral, educational, vocational and employment counseling, substance abuse treatment and classes covering everything from personal finance and GED to fatherhood and meditation.

As with electronic home detention and GPS monitoring, defendants pay their own way to participate in work release — $70 a week. Costs of substance abuse and behavioral counseling are covered by criminal justice money set aside by the Indiana Legislature last year to help fund community corrections programs.

Two key courses provided at Therapeutic Work Release are Thinking for a Change, a cognitive behavioral therapy program used by the Indiana Department of Correction; and Moral Reconation Therapy, an evidence-based behavioral therapy course.

Among the providers are Southwestern Behavioral Healthcare, Work One, Vincennes University, Old National Bank, the Parenting Time Center, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, Life Choices prison ministry and others.

Therapeutic Work Release participants logged 2,066 hours of class as of Dec. 31, 2015, and two have earned GEDs, said Director Jodi Uebelhack.

It’s all done with the oversight of case managers, counselors and the judges. Importantly, Trockman noted, it’s also all done on site.

“The staff here ask what they can do to help. They show that they really care,” said Taurus Tomlinson. “They help you here. Sitting in a jail cell is not going to help you. They try to help you as much as they can.”

The 23-year-old has already signed up for a fatherhood class, Alcoholics Anonymous and volunteer community service. He hopes to complete his sentence with a stronger mind and more stability in his life.

“I'll be able to say I’ve gone however many days sober and kept a job,” he said.

“The part I think is most important is that it shows you that not working is not OK and that working is a way of life. There are bigger and better things out there for you than being in here,” Tomlinson said.

The program’s new direction includes incentives participants can receive for completing various phases satisfactorily. The incentives include movie nights, daily passes on Sundays, weekend passes and four-hour passes on weekdays for family time.

Participants can even receive time cuts of as much as 60 days on their sentences for completing some of the counseling, earning GEDs and doing community service — all while also working and taking part in other classes.

Harvey believes he has already benefited from the counseling and classes at work release, both through participating in them directly and through talking to others about what they are learning.

“I still have a lot of stress, but now I'm motivated. I’m focused on what I need to do. It’s helping change my train of thought and learn strategies to stay on track,” Harvey said. “It allows me to figure out things I couldn’t figure out for myself before. I feel like I have my thoughts together and I know what I am going to do.”

Harvey acknowledges that the time cuts are strong motivation.

“I’m trying to do everything I can do,” he said.

Harvey, 28, said the weekday family time — he is recently married and has five children — also has helped ease his mind.

“As a parent, that is something that is definitely needed,” he said.

It isn’t easy for work release inmates either. Participants are required to maintain employment, submit to drug and alcohol testing and follow the rules. Failure to do so can lead to sanctions, including having participation in work release revoked.

Harvey, for instance, spent several days of his sentence in jail for causing a disturbance at the work release facility.

“Just like we have incentives for positive behavior, we use sanctions for negative behavior,” Uebelhack said.

Trockman said work release participants are not as high risk as those in drug court and don’t need state approval.

“It gives us another sentencing option as judges. Every sentence we do is an individual sentence. We like to place defendants in the program that is best for them,” Kiely said. “I don't think anyone can dispute the success of treatment courts in Vanderburgh County.

“We want to introduce that success into work release.”

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