By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Advocates of the Second Chance Act Program that helps incarcerated women return to society say we can pay a little now or a lot later. With the new fiscal year starting July 1, money for the program still has not been definitively identified.
“It was the first program (that) started dealing with women in county jail and taking action so that they don’t come back,” Undersheriff Rhett Burnett said.
Cleveland County commissioners approved $8,500 in monthly service contracts for the Second Chance program, commonly known as S-Cap, on Monday. The program’s funding is still iffy, and the sheriff’s office will keep it afloat for a couple of months as they search for grants to provide more long-term funding.
Sheriff Joe Lester Lester introduced S-Cap in 2009. It was originally sponsored by the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office and funded through the Second Chance Act grant from the Bureau of Justice.
“The program needs funding, and that’s what we’re looking for. We’re working with as many people as we can,” Burnett said.
Information on a grant from the Bureau of Justice is expected by July 1.
“We’re hopeful that will take care of it,” Burnett said. “We’ve started the program and we’ve got to find money to fund it. The program is still running strong. We just want to keep it that way by finding federal grants or donations from foundations to keep it going.”
Last year, state grants that funded S-Cap were discontinued, leaving the sheriff’s office scrambling to find the money to keep the program intact.
S-Cap provides training and mental health overviews for incarcerated women. The S-Cap contracts include Elizabeth P. Jones for $3,500 monthly, Lisa Lewis for $2,000 per month and Jennifer Walker Smothers for $3,000 per month.
The program is available for non-violent offenders incarcerated at the Cleveland County Detention Center and gives those women a chance to reacclimate into society. S-Cap works with female inmates to help them with housing and food needs. It also provides employment and counseling services.
“We started with 300 women, which was about 10 percent of women arrested in Cleveland County,” said Rock Richardson, director of Jail Diversion and Re-entry. “S-Cap will not take violent offenders.”
The data for those first women indicates the rate of arrest was reduced from 70 percent to less than 10 percent.
“What makes our program unique is that we work at the jail level,” Richardson said. “We don’t wait until they get into prison.”
About 70 to 80 percent of the woman were arrested on drug-related offenses. Some of those have drug addiction or mental health issues.
“We have people that are in the mental health court and drug court, but our program is voluntary,” Richardson said. “I think we fit very well with those other specialty programs.”
The program helps the women navigate in the court system and get resources such as housing and food.
“We work with the employers in the community,” Richardson said. “Some of these women do have a felony offense. It may be a low-level felony, but it can make it hard for them to get a job.”
The program works with employers to find a good fit.
“We call our case manager navigators,” he said. “We do outings with their families.”
Helping women also helps children. As many as 85 percent of S-Cap women are mothers and about 60 to 65 percent of those children are not staying with the mothers at this time. Most of those children are not yet in the foster system and intervention now can help prevent those children from needing to enter the system.
Most of the pro-social activities in the program include the children.
“We have events for the kids,” he said.
Unlike drug court or mental health court, S-Cap is a non-reject program.