Life after prison for criminal offenders of any type can be difficult. Labels are placed on them, regardless of their offense, doors are shut in their faces and, for many, homelessness can be seen as the only inevitable ending. But then, the people who put these offenders away in the first place do have a goal: no repeat business if it can be helped, at least here in Benton County, thank you.
Enter the Sheriff’s Community Corrections Division. They have a variety of programs in place to help offenders take back their lives; one of the most comprehensive is their housing program. Through this effort, funded by a number of levies and grants, offenders are housed in apartments rented by the Sheriff’s Office.
Located in downtown’s Cascade Apartments, essentially the complex serves as a halfway home for offenders, a place to stay when others may shut them out. Offenders are monitored by the Sheriff’s Office, with cameras in the hallways and a group of officers who come by every night. They are provided with most everything they need and are offered more opportunities than they might face if left to rejoin the world on their own. Offenders have a 90-day period within which they can live and “take the steps” to find a solution for their housing situation. If they are actively taking those steps and actively stabilizing their situations, there is no cap on their stay. The Sheriff’s Office would rather work with them than kick them back onto the street.
Partnering with a number of different rehabilitation organizations within Corvallis, like Milestones Family Recovery and Benton County Mental Health, offenders are provided a number of services for substance abuse or mental health treatments, so there are wraparound services along with a safe and sober living environment.
The entire Community Corrections Division of the Sheriff’s Office kind of goes unnoticed. There are preconceived notions about what law enforcement officials do and what their goals are with offenders that Sergeant Abraham Griswold seems to challenge.
“There’s a perception within the community that all we do is ‘trail, nail, and jail.’ We have to respond to emergencies and that’s all that most people see,” said Griswold. “They see patrol and they know the jail. That’s what they know. But in the background, we’re doing all kinds of stuff to prevent future crimes from happening.”
Griswold has been with the program since its inception and makes note of all the things they do for offenders looking for a change.
“We’re just trying to do the right thing with what limited resources we have,” said Griswold. “We pay for substance abuse treatment, we will waive their fees for being on supervision, we provide housing, we will offer programming for employment education. We work with these people rather than against them.”
Griswold also spoke about some of the success stories that have come out of the program, including an elderly gentleman who had to face incredible odds to reclaim his life.
“He was released with a pair of shoes, a pair of sweats, a backpack, and his release papers. That was it,” recalled Griswold. “He was 70 years old. It took him two weeks just to get back to Corvallis. He was a perfect case of what our program was set for. He went on to slowly [rebuild]. He would find TVs left behind by college students, fix them up, and sell them for a couple bucks. He then started a paper route and saved up enough money to get his own apartment and his own truck to expand his paper route. And then he was actually one of the people to found the local men’s Oxford House, a residence for recovering alcoholics and substance abusers. Whenever I think about why we have this program, he always comes to mind.”
That story alone speaks volumes about what this program can do for members of our society and for those who find themselves out of options after serving their time.
Of course, a program like this needs those involved to want to be there. They need to accept help for the program to be effective. Some see it as a continuation of prison life, but the program is far from that. For people who would otherwise be homeless and without many opportunities, this is more than a life changer. The Benton County Sheriff’s Office believes that those who seek help will find success within their various programs. This housing program is a highlight that helps offenders looking to reinvent their lives once their time in prison is up.
These officers want to help people struggling to reintegrate into society in any way that they can.
Consider this: the same group of people that put these offenders in jail are one of the only groups that will openly help them. It is not like they were looking for news coverage; they seem content to just do the work.
By Nathan Hermanson