Camden jail to participate in pilot program to reduce incarceration

Thirty-five-year-old Joey Blicharski’s back in the Camden County Correctional Facility for heroin possession. He’s one of 810 inmates currently at the facility, where more than 60 percent struggle with addiction and another 20 percent deal with mental illness. Blicharski’s in counseling for both and says he’ll need a lot of help to continue therapy when he gets out.

“They helped with medication monitoring, individual counseling, group therapy,” he said. “I mean, as long as I stick with it and make a conscious effort to overcome what I’m going through — because what I have is for life.”

“These are our sons. These are our daughters. They’re going right back out into the community. How do we help them and how do we make sure they’re successful? And sometimes it’s by providing them a dashboard of services,” said Camden County Correctional Facility Warden Karen Taylor.

That’s why officials welcomed Wednesday’s news: Camden is one of just 13 jurisdictions in the nation chosen to develop special pilot programs through a $148 million MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge grant aimed at reducing over-incarceration.

“We intend to reduce the number of individuals that are reincarcerated within a year, as well as decrease the number of interactions with law enforcement following the year of release. We expect to continue to revise existing policies,” said Sharon Bean, population manager at the Camden County Correctional Facility.

Camden will get $50,000 to start and will offer released inmates seamless support from peers and mentors, a coordinated services website, counseling for addiction and mental health problems and more. Almost 8,400 inmates will re-enter life in Camden County this year, but recidivism rates hover between 50 and 60 percent, according to Camden County Director of Corrections David Owens.

“So, this program, programs like this, help us get to the root cause and help us begin to develop a strategy, a workable strategy, to stop recidivism, to stop people from coming back, keeping them in the community, keeping them working,” said Owens.

Elijah Byers is on his third stint at the county lockup. He’s already enrolled in the co-occurring Reentry Program that’s funded by a three-year, $650,000 federal grant which will ultimately provide housing, clothes, food and medical care to 190 inmates.

“There’s still hope for us. And just give us a chance to get back into the community and show that we can thrive, and work and take care of our families like everybody else,” said Byers.

Blicharski’s already signed up for treatment.

“And them being able to coordinate everything with them on my release hopefully is going to help me to not return,” said Blicharski.

Blicharski’s got two kids and he hopes to get out in time to go trick-or-treating with them. The support services that follow him home could become a model to reduce re-incarceration rates across the nation.