FRANKLIN — Instead of immersing himself in the illegal drug culture, when Steven Dowell completes his state prison sentence on a variety of drug charges, he plans to work as a diesel mechanic at his father's shop in Hardin County.

Dowell has become the unofficial poster child of the programs offered at the Simpson County Detention Center aimed at reducing recidivism and successful reintegration of inmates back into society. He has completed three of the programs and now mentors other inmates.

Six months ago, the jail started the Second Chance Offender Rehabilitation and Education system that includes several different programs to address a variety of issues inmates face in their journey to becoming productive citizens. Inmates are incentivized to participate in the programs that make up the SCORE system by giving them credit – anywhere from 30 to 90 days for each program – towards their sentence. So far, the program in Simpson County has saved state taxpayers $150,000.

"What our goal is to do is take an offender and instead of just giving them a bus ticket when they are released like we did in the past, make sure they get their GED and have adequate skills and resources to be able to support themselves when they get released," said jail program director Ashley Penn, who oversees SCORE.

The first step of the SCORE program is an interview process with each inmate who wants to participate to determine that inmate's needs. The program is open to nonviolent offenders. The next step is getting the inmate registered in programs that will help him or her address core needs for a successful re-entry into society.

The programs are Inside Out Dads, Portal New Directions, Moral Reconation Therapy, Thinking for Good, Parenting, Anger Management, Relapse Prevention, National Career Readiness Certificate assistance and GED assistance.

As part of SCORE, any inmate can take all of the programs or just some of them. 

Eventually, the jail hopes to obtain permission to allow state inmates to attend classes and work outside the facility for at least minimum wage while incarcerated. That money will be set aside in an account so that the inmate will have money upon release that can be used toward finding housing and transportation, two of the most important factors in successful reintegration.

Partnering with the jail on the SCORE program are Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act through the Barren River Area Development District, the Franklin-Simpson Industrial Authority, Franklin-Simpson Chamber of Commerce, Franklin-Simpson Adult Education and the Society of Human Resource Managers.

Workforce development will meet with human resource managers to find out the type of skills needed by area employers. SKyCTC will train inmates for those particular skills.

"A lot of times when felons come to the job center, they don't have transportation, a place to live, no money for down payments for apartments or utilities," said Connie Kington, of the Kentucky Career Center. Those types of issues prevent people from being able to get and maintain employment.

Currently, state and county inmates are participating in portions of SCORE. But none of the inmates can earn at least minimum wage and have that money saved for them while incarcerated. They also can't leave the jail to get an education outside the facility.

"We would really like to get them outside of the walls and into an educational setting to help them with reintegration," Chief Deputy Jailer Brent Deweese said.

Deweese has been asking state lawmakers to push for changes in the state regulations that will allow the county jail to complete this portion of the program. He is hopeful that by the first of the year the necessary changes will be put into place.

Currently, the jail is seeing a 75 percent recidivism rate for felons. Deweese and Penn visited the Franklin County (Tenn.)  jail that has been operating a program similar to SCORE for seven years, and that facility has seen its recidivism rates drop from the mid-70 percentage range to the low 20s, Deweese said. 

The state spends a $500 million a year to incarcerate people, he said. Some 16,000 felons are released every year and the recidivism rate over a three-year period in Kentucky sits at about 45 percent, he said.

"That money can be better appropriated for treatment programs, job training, pension reform and education," Deweese said. "Nobody wants to warehouse people. Warehousing people does not work.

"The moral and right reason to do (corrections) is to change inmate's lives," he said.

When Dowell first came to the Simpson County jail, he brought with him an attitude and the mentality that he was a victim.

Now he works seven days a week at the city park.

"At the end of the day, I know I'm in a better mindset than I was," Dowell said. He has been drug free for two years and looks forward to the day he completes his prison sentence.

He understands now the toll that his illegal activities took – not only on himself but also on the people who love him and on society.

"I've always had the same morals but my personality went to s---," Dowell said about the time he spent wrapped up in the drug world.

Moral Reconation Therapy focuses on inmates learning about themselves and taking a personal inventory of how they got to where they are in life and the effects of their choices on others.

"It made me take a look not only at the drug use but also my family, my health and the community," he said. "It's a waste."

He also recognizes that while he is doing time so are his family members that include four children.

"My two oldest children, I haven't been there their whole lives," he said. "I'm not going to make the same mistake. I've outgrown it."

Deweese hopes that SCORE will be embraced by state legislators and used in other corrections facilities.

"We can spend our resources training people one time for success or incarcerating them over and over for the remainder of their lives," he said. "One is significantly less expensive than the other."

 — Follow Assistant City Editor Deborah Highland on Twitter @BGDNCrimebeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Night editor and senior writer Deborah Highland is a veteran journalist with 23 years of experience writing and editing both community and metropolitan newspapers. She has also developed websites and co-hosted a political talk show.

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