Eau Claire County will hire a social worker to address the high number of people who return to jail shortly after getting out.
The County Board voted 24-0 Tuesday night to create the new grant-funded position.
Sarah Ferber of Eau Claire was a member of the group that created the proposal for the new position.
Ferber, who herself was released from the Eau Claire County Jail in 2015 after serving a jail term, said a release plan formulated by a social worker will help connect former inmates to the right services in the county.
“It was a difficult time,” Ferber said of her release from jail.
“Luckily, I knew where to go to get the services I needed,” she said. “Other people aren’t so lucky.”
The new social worker will work with jail staff and local advocates to help people after their release from incarceration.
The position is estimated to cost about $85,000 annually, which will be funded by a state Department of Justice re-entry diversion grant the county received in February.
The grant lasts for five years and is worth a total of $400,000. Medical assistance money also may fund a small portion of the position’s cost.
Since 2014, about 175 people have re-entered the county jail five times or more, according to a fact sheet prepared for county supervisors.
The person hired for the job will be informed it is a grant-funded position, Supervisor Sue Miller said.
“At this point it’s scheduled to sunset in five years,” she said.
“I just think it’s incredible,” Miller said of the new position. “I know we’re going to have real success on it.”
Supervisors Judy Gatlin, Stella Pagonis, Gerald Wilkie and Brandon Buchanan also spoke in favor of the new social worker position.
“They have no support system when they leave jail,” Gatlin said of former inmates.
“I think this is a really positive move for the county,” she said.
The secured part of the jail is filled to capacity. Former inmates need help finding housing and employment, Pagonis said.
“This is really important. It’s just a wonderful opportunity for the county,” she said.
Some people re-offend within 24 hours of their release from jail, particularly if they have a substance abuse problem, Wilkie said.
“A discharge plan gives them an optimal chance of going down the right path,” he said.
The county will reap benefits from the social worker position, Buchanan said.
“I truly believe it will pay for itself,” he said.
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