BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB-TV) – A local group whose goal is to help former inmates rebuild their lives is eager to launch a new program that will work in conjunction with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.
The program, called “Project Blue,” will work with inmates starting while they’re still in jail and take steps to make sure they don’t end up back in jail after they get out.
Peaceprints of Western New York submitted a grant about a year and a half ago to pilot the program and got the funding.
Executive Director Cindi McEachon says Erie County lacks community re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated people.
“We, at this point, don’t have any, and there was a massive gap that was identified,” she told the Erie County Legislature in mid-July.
McEachon made her case to the lawmakers, and after it was tabled for a week, legislators voted to approve Project Blue unanimously on July 25.
Because the program is funded entirely through the grant, McEachon says it will not cost taxpayers any money.
In fact, she says it could save Erie County money in the long run. McEachon says it costs $162 a day for someone to stay in jail.
“An 81 percent recidivism rate…we have an issue, and it’s our county taxpayer dollars that are going to this, so it is incredibly important for us to start practicing other, more cost-effective program models that could save all of us some money, and improve lives,” she said.
Legislator Joseph Lorigo felt approving the program was a no-brainer.
“Not only do we want to have people be productive members of society, but it also is a cost savings if we don’t have people entering and reentering the criminal justice system,” Lorigo said.
About 500 inmates were surveyed to see if they’d want this type of program. Thomas Diina, the jail management division superintendent, says they do.
“It was very clear that the inmate population as a whole are eager and very interested in having an opportunity such as the one we’ve created with Project Blue,” he said.
Peaceprints WNY has purchased 170 Kerns Avenue in Buffalo, a former Catholic Charities building. It will be site of Project Blue’s facility, and now, Peaceprints is in the process of hiring staff.
Among the new staff will be a position that’s specifically withing the Sheriff’s Office; that will be a deputy with the title of “community reintegration deputy.”
“Having a deputy assigned to the program through the grant, paid by the grant…it’s kind of a cost savings to the county, and have them work in conjunction with us in true partnership,” McEachon explained.
McEachon thinks that deputy will be paramount to the program’s success because the process will early: The deputy will make contact with an inmate at the beginning of incarceration as opposed to at the end.
“And you’d get a sense for what is causing this individual to continually re-offend, and the idea would be to work with the transition coordinator from Project Blue and their case management staff to put services in place that would address those issues,” Diina said.