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Douglas County Jail finds success in therapy program designed to help inmates re-enter society

The program includes lessons on mental health
Posted at 11:42 AM, Feb 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-28 12:42:44-05

OMAHA, Neb. — The Douglas County Jail is taking a unique approach to help inmates successfully re-enter society with therapy and self-help sessions.

Showing vulnerability in jails and prisons is practically unheard of. But the Douglas County Jail is dropping that stigma with a successful emotional support program run and organized by the inmates themselves. The program is called Reiteration and Understanding. At Unit 19 in the jail, the inmates were accepted into the program and meet once a week to discuss sensitive topics like mental health, anger management and relationship health.

The program is so successful that there's a waiting list, and it can take inmates weeks to be accepted.

"Took me about three weeks and people want to get over here just because they know it'll help change versus just sitting in a cell all day," inmate Jesse Stewart said.

By participating the inmates don't get time knocked off or any special privileges, just the comfort of having someone to listen to you and learn from others' mistakes.

"I think we need to set ourselves up for success, instead of failure. We can't blame our childhoods or our past for how we act today," inmate Anthony Marrero said.

Marrero has been in and out of jail for a while, but never got a chance to learn. Now he does.

"I actually got out of here in December for the same charge, and I came back within a month because I didn't do any work to better myself, to help the problem. I've never talked to anyone about it," he said.

The program is run through a grant and jail director Michael Meyers says he hopes to extend the program and get 25 percent of the entire jail population involved. Re-entry specialist Jasmine Westbrook has been around since the beginning of the program in June, and has seen the positive effects first hand.

"It's important and it's significant. Especially if you're wanting to reduce the recidivism rate in your area, we need more programming and more opportunities for them to learn while they're in here instead of just sitting idle," she said.

The inmates prepare their speeches weeks in advance, do book reports, art projects and presentations. The grant to run this program recently received a three year extension.