CASTLE ROCK — One of the first comprehensive reintegration programs for jail inmates is in Colorado. It's an effort to reduce the number of people who return to the Douglas County Jail.
"I think, historically, it has been the thought process of 'It wasn't us that got them there, so why should we bother when they leave?' However, that's not caring about your fellow human being, right?" said Shawn Sanchez, deputy of reintegration in Douglas County.
The Board of County Commissioners agreed to create the new position in October. Sanchez helps inmates get resources, access mental health care and substance abuse treatment, and find housing assistance before they are released.
"This is the only time that I have to get my life back together. I'm 22 years old, I don't want to be on the streets anymore. I don't want to be an inmate in Douglas County Jail," said Tristan Slinger, an inmate currently being held on drug and theft charges.
Slinger is working his way through the Reintegration Program and has a sober living home arrangement for when he is released.
The program is funded by state-level grants. In addition to the supportive services, the program also offers backpacks filled with personal supplies like hygiene toiletries, shoes, a blanket, a first aid kit, and sometimes gift cards to grocery stores. The inmates take a bag with them when they leave the jail.
"The second chance even means more because they are willing to go the extra step to make sure that I'm taken care of and to make sure that I'm successful out there," said Slinger.
Local community members, like the congregation at the First United Methodist Church of Castle Rock, help support the program with donations. The church has been buying and filling its own set of backpacks for inmates since 2013.
"We started with 24 backpacks. We've done it every year except for COVID 2021. It's moved now that we're doing 48 backpacks," said Michael Vitk, who attends the church. "It's just a small way that we can be a part of making them know that people care for them."
Sanchez believes it's important to break the stigma the public may have about inmates and what brought them to jail in the first place.
"You can have a very traumatic experience completely change your life, and your life crumbles and falls apart. You just need help getting back up. You might just need somebody to believe in you, just a little bit so that you can get back up and move along. You remember those people in your life. I remember them in my life," said Sanchez.
It's too early to tell what sort of lasting impact the program will have on reducing the chance of someone landing behind bars again, but since January, at least 30 inmates have gone through the program.