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Wed, Nov. 20

Reach Out program helping offenders not go back to jail

Derek Oltersdorf, an inmate release coordinator at the Yavapai County jail, speaks with a fellow employee posing as an inmate at the jail to demonstrate what Reach Out Program interactions look like during the booking process. (Max Efrein/Courier)

Derek Oltersdorf, an inmate release coordinator at the Yavapai County jail, speaks with a fellow employee posing as an inmate at the jail to demonstrate what Reach Out Program interactions look like during the booking process. (Max Efrein/Courier)

An 81-year-old living in Yavapai County was struggling with homelessness, transportation issues and a bad social environment in 2018.

These factors led him to have several encounters with law enforcement and landed him in the Yavapai County Jail on three occasions within that single year.

On the third arrest, the man agreed to participate in a voluntary screening process newly offered at the jail. Those conducting the screening (known as release coordinators) asked the man a series of questions related to mental health, substance abuse and adverse childhood experiences. He was also asked about his socioeconomic well-being, such as his employment status and housing and transportation needs.

After identifying his risk factors, they discussed available resources and started making connections. They helped him enroll in Medicaid, apply for long-term care-and submit and secure a bed at an assisted-living facility once he was released from the jail.

While he waited for his new housing arrangement to become available, Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO) staff were able to use grant funding to provide him with two weeks of transitional housing so he didn’t have to spend any more time on the streets.

“This was an elderly man who was going to continue to be homeless,” said Kristie Hambrick, inmate programs manager at the Yavapai County Jail. “From what I understand, it’s been about a year and he is still in stable housing.”

Success stories like this are the result of an innovative program called Reach Out.


The Yavapai County Detention Facility in Camp Verde. (Max Efrein/Courier)


The multi-faceted pilot project took its first steps in 2015 when the YCSO introduced post-arrest assistance to those housed in its jail’s mental-health unit, a 30-bed dormitory reserved for inmates diagnosed with serious mental illnesses and willing to take medication as a part of their treatment.

The idea was to reduce these inmates’ jail sentences on the condition that they would continue their mental-health treatment after being released from the facility.

To make treatment outside the jail as accessible as possible, YCSO began partnering with behavioral health facilities, transitional housing programs and transportation services. They also started training their deputies on how to identify mental and substance abuse disorders and work with crisis-response groups so that individuals needing treatment receive help instead of just being locked up for their unruly behavior and actions.

Law enforcement agencies throughout the county have since followed suit with such training and collaboration.

As these efforts showed promise in reducing recidivism — the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend — both the pre-arrest diversion and post-arrest re-entry services were expanded so that anyone coming in contact with law enforcement in the county could benefit from them.

“Our goal and our hope is that at the earliest possible intersection with the justice system, we can get people the support that they need,” said Beya Thayer, executive director of the Yavapai Justice and Mental Health Coalition, which is tasked with overseeing the Reach Out Program.

To fully implement the vision, additional funding was acquired after legislative action on a bill signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in May of 2018, earmarking $500,000 in funding over three years. This money allowed YCSO to hire enough release coordinators for 24/7 coverage at the jail.

Part of the funding agreement required that an independent review be conducted following the first full year of the program.


A graphic showing key findings of an independent study done on Yavapai County’s Reach Out Program by Northern Arizona University staff. (Northern Arizona University/Courtesy)


The results of the study, which was prepared by faculty at Northern Arizona University, were released in late October.

Within the study period (March 2018 to March 2019), release coordinators interacted with 4,867 individuals. Of those, 1,168 were referred to services.

“I will tell you because of training, staffing and having round-the-clock release coordinators, at this point about 95% of folks who are getting booked have a chance to meet with a release coordinator,” Bayer said.

Inmates who participated in Reach Out showed a 16% recidivism rate. This compares to a 28% recidivism average at the Arizona Department of Corrections measured by Pew Charitable Trusts in 2004, the most recent year data was available for.

Brian Silvernale, inmate services bureau commander at the jail, said this is a key indicator that the Reach Out Program is working.

“Really, our recidivism rate would generally be higher than the prison because we’re dealing with a higher number of people,” Silvernale said.

The study also showed a decrease in the number of people incarcerated by the jail and how long they stayed.

From 2017 to 2018, bookings dropped from 9,324 to 8,467 (about 9%), the average daily population dropped from 562 to 512 (about 9%), and the total number of inmate days in the jail dropped from 200,190 to 186,360 (about 7%).

Much of this is credited to pre-arrest diversion efforts by community partners such as the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic Crisis Stabilization Unit, the Terros Mobile Crisis Response Team and the Spectrum Mobile Crisis Response Team.

Combined, these entities assisted with 1,014 pre-arrest diversions.

Follow Max Efrein on Twitter @mefrein, email him at or call him at 928-445-3333 ext. 1105.

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