Reducing recidivism is a laudable goal for any community serious about rehabilitating those who break the law. But it’s not easy to accomplish.
Hancock County has taken steps over the years to assist those who are incarcerated with the idea that they will one day be out and part of the community again. In-jail mental health and drug counseling are available. Drug courts and intensive supervision addresses substance abuse. But re-entry into society after a jail or prison sentence is still a big challenge for many, and some re-offend.
That’s why an emerging mentorship program, “Welcome to a New Life,” should have our attention.
The brainchild of two retired Findlay businessmen, Stan Kujawa and Harold “Puck” Rowe, New Life aims to provide support to those who are transitioning back into the community after a stint in jail or prison. Geared toward those with substance abuse problems and those committed to changing their lifestyle, it’s “free” but mentees must apply and agree to certain things, including remaining drug and alcohol free.
In exchange, they are assigned a mentor who helps them navigate obstacles like finding a place to live, a job, and transportation.
With the jail overflowing, mostly with those charged with drug or drug-related crimes, and the opioid problems continuing, the timing may be perfect for an alternative approach to rehabilitation.
Welcome to Your New Life didn’t happen overnight.
Kujawa and Rowe spent over a year knocking on doors and pitching the concept to those on the front lines of the criminal justice system, local government and in the private sector. They received favorable feedback, made some tweaks to the plan, and are now a non-profit organization with a board of directors. Fundraising is underway and mentors are being sought.
In a pilot program still underway, four of six mentees are said to be leading “productive lives.” The two others are still part of the program. No doubt, there will be failures, as there are in drug court. Addiction can be difficult to break. But success stories should emerge, too.
Some people have never had someone buy them lunch or talk to them about how to go about finding a job. Given the right tools for success, many will thrive and in time could become mentors themselves.
This community is fortunate to have people like Kujawa and Rowe who think outside the box when it comes to post-incarceration. Their commitment to Welcome to a New Life could have long-term benefits to individuals and their families throughout Hancock County.
Probation officers, because of huge caseloads, can only do so much to monitor offenders and steer them in a better direction. Judges have the authority to send someone to jail or prison, if needed, but can’t hold them there forever. An effective mentor, however, can have a life-changing effect on someone.
The program isn’t for every criminal and it won’t ever clear out the jail. There will always be more lawbreakers than helping some offenders get back on track it should slow the revolving door at the jail and help some become productive citizens again. That benefits us all.
We encourage the community’s support of the program, perhaps by volunteering to be a mentor.