Phillip Bernard was sitting in a Pima County jail cell in August 2019 believing his life was over.
With a string of arrests and two prior theft convictions already on his report, Bernard had simply been caught after being on the lam for a couple of months.
Now 32, he’d been battling drug dependancy that began when he was 14 years outdated.
“I did lots of issues I’m not very pleased with,” Bernard stated. “I put my household by way of rather a lot.”
Regardless of assist by way of COPE Group Providers, with no steady place to stay, a job or sense of goal, it didn’t take lengthy earlier than he was again to his outdated methods. But as he sat on the concrete reserving benches on the Pima County jail, Bernard knew one thing needed to give.
“I made a pact with God that if he helped me by way of it, I’d by no means flip my again on him once more,” Bernard stated. “Then right here comes Cindy.”
Cindy Buchler provided Bernard a means out.
“She was asking me the place I used to be planning on going and I stated, ‘I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m achieved with this however I don’t have a spot to go,’” Bernard stated.Buchler works for Pima County’s Pretrial Providers Division. She referred Bernard to the Housing First program, which is for people who find themselves homeless, have a substance abuse or psychological well being difficulty, and have been booked into jail not less than twice prior to now 12 months.
This system was launched a couple of months earlier than Bernard’s arrest in Could 2019. It’s a collaboration between the county’s Felony Justice Reform Unit and Outdated Pueblo Group Providers. Along with overseeing day-to-day operations, OPCS additionally handles psychological well being and medical companies. Town of Tucson gives housing vouchers for Bernard and different residents.
By October 2019, Bernard had acquired the keys to his new condominium and by extension, a brand new life.
“This time round, it’s been fairly completely different for me,” Bernard stated. “It was a godsend. I don’t know if I’d be alive immediately or in jail if it wasn’t for the help of Pretrial Providers and my public defender and April at Outdated Pueblo.”
“It was the proper factor to do”
Since transferring into his condominium, Bernard has been in a position to make amends together with his household, spend time together with his youngsters and take critical steps towards a greater future.
It hasn’t all been simple.
In March, Bernard began a brand new job at P.F. Chang’s, because of a automotive he was in a position to purchase with assist from his mom. Just a few days after he started, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero ordered the shutdown of “nonessential” companies throughout the metropolis limits to mitigate the unfold of the coronavirus.
The restaurant ultimately reopened. However by then Bernard’s automotive had damaged down and he misplaced his job.
Not like many different unemployed Tucsonans, Bernard doesn’t have to fret about dropping his dwelling, because of Housing First.
Realizing he has a roof over his head has helped Bernard keep sober.
“I haven’t even had the considered utilizing by way of all these struggles,” Bernard stated. “The outdated me would have needed to surrender and get excessive, however this time round I didn’t hand over. I stated I’d preserve preventing by way of it.”
Bernard is one in every of hundreds of people that have acquired assist by way of applications throughout the county’s Felony Justice Reform Unit, together with Housing First, the Jail Inhabitants Overview Committee, U-MATTER and others.
Officers with the CJRU say Bernard is one in every of many success tales of their ongoing effort to scale back the jail inhabitants for the previous a number of years, together with extra just lately to assist scale back the unfold of the coronavirus.
The entire 467 individuals launched from custody by way of the Jail Inhabitants Overview Committee as of Dec. 1 acquired help and companies to assist them keep out of jail and to deal with their underlying points.
The committee, which was fashioned in 2019, assesses the custody standing of inmates and identifies secure and efficient launch circumstances whereas balancing public-safety considerations. The group meets each week and does its greatest to assist be certain that those that are launched have their primary wants met, stated Wendy Petersen, assistant county administrator for justice and legislation enforcement.
“We make valiant efforts to strive to verify individuals are housed,” Petersen stated. “In the event that they don’t have housing by way of Housing First, they get wraparound companies by way of different service suppliers which might be members of the assembly.”
Wraparound companies can embrace transportation help, assist in discovering employment or enrolling in authorities advantages, peer mentoring, court docket supervision and different evidence-based interventions.
“entire particular person” side
The conferences are run by Kate Vesely, the director of justice reform initiatives, who signed onto the place in February. Vesely was beforehand director of specialty court docket initiatives on the Pima County Legal professional’s Workplace.
The video convention conferences are a collaborative effort to stability public security and particular person rights. Prosecutors and public defenders are the principle selections makers, Vesely stated.
The committee receives info from therapy suppliers, legislation enforcement, group service officers, homeless outreach advocates and anybody else who could have info on the person up for overview earlier than making its choice.
“It’s the ‘entire particular person’ side that we strive actually onerous to deal with,” Vesely stated.
The committee is made up of staff from the county, Superior Courtroom, the town and businesses that embrace residential, dependancy and psychological well being companies.
“We take nice strides to signify group security in our conversations,” Vesely stated.
Petersen stated housing and peer help have been game-changers for plenty of individuals who have come by way of this system.
“I can’t stress the worth of getting an individual to say, ‘I made it; you may make it too,” Petersen stated. “I believe the outcomes converse for themselves.”
From an information perspective, this system remains to be “actually younger,” Petersen stated, having not even hit the two-year mark.
However information supplied by the county present that the 467 individuals launched by way of the committee have saved the county 21,479 days in jail. That equates to greater than $2 million in financial savings.
Of these 467 individuals, 150 stated they have been homeless and 19 stated they have been veterans.
“We’ve promising outcomes about what number of jail days we’ve saved, however we even have demonstrated the recidivism price is way decrease and represents a really low portion of that group.”
“We’re not going again to the dangerous outdated days”
In early March, when County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry requested the CJRU to step up their efforts, the duty of discovering housing fell upon Vesely.
“It was intense,” Vesely stated of the several-week push wherein she was capable of finding housing for 50 individuals. “We didn’t need them in hospitals and shelters, and we undoubtedly didn’t need them out within the parts.”
Petersen known as the work that went into housing all 50 individuals a “exceptional effort” by Vesely and others concerned.
“People have been scrambling to maintain this,” Petersen stated. “It was the proper factor to do, the ethical factor to do. And from a well being standpoint, it was completely obligatory that we do that.”
Petersen stated that whatever the pandemic, now could be the time to give attention to points like reentry and retaining individuals out of jail to start with.
“It’s a nationwide pattern. Chuck (Huckelberry) says each time we fear concerning the cash, ‘We’re by no means going again, we’re simply going ahead,’” Petersen stated. “We’re not going again to the dangerous outdated days.”
Along with being the proper factor to do, jail releases can save the group an amazing amount of cash when achieved accurately, Vesely stated.
“Accurately” means implementing an intensive decision-making course of, and receiving group enter and suggestions from public-safety representatives and therapy suppliers.
“Why not launch them with this degree of help and intervention?” Vesely requested. “It makes the group extra secure than in the event that they’d been launched on their very own accord.”
“Launch baggage” comprise Narcan
Along with help, these launched from custody beneath this system get “launch baggage” to assist them reintegrate to life out of jail, a brainchild of Mayra Ramos, program coordinator for the county’s United Medicine Assisted Therapy Focused Engagement Response, or U-MATTER, program.
U-MATTER was established in October 2018 as a partnership between Pima County, the Tucson Police Division, native service suppliers and the College of Arizona’s Southwest Institute for Analysis on Ladies. The grant-funded program focuses on medication-assisted therapy for individuals coping with opioid abuse.
Pima County’s Public Protection Providers noticed the concept getting used elsewhere and introduced the concept to the CJRU, who tasked Ramos with implementing this system in Tucson.
Ramos labored with U-MATTER’s peer help specialists to provide you with what would go into the luggage.
The baggage embrace about 20 gadgets, in addition to printed details about the coronavirus and find out how to entry group sources. Gadgets embrace masks, hand sanitizer, socks, toiletries and Narcan, which is used to reverse an opioid overdose.
“Initially we didn’t embrace Narcan. However we all know people being launched from jail are at increased threat charges for opiate use and associated deaths,” Ramos stated, including that the Narcan comes by way of the county’s partnership with Sonoran Prevention Works. “That’s one thing that’s going to be very significant and impactful as we proceed to see advisories in group relating to opioid associated deaths.”
The baggage are given to people who find themselves launched by way of the JPRC, have been deflected to medication-assisted therapy by way of TPD, are a part of the U-MATTER program or are contacted throughout follow-up outreach after experiencing an opioid overdose.
Preliminary funding paid for 300 baggage, which Ramos hopes to undergo “fairly shortly” and start searching for funding for extra.
Since U-MATTER’s inception, greater than 1,550 individuals have been saved out of jail.
“On the fee financial savings side, that’s big to each the town of Tucson and Pima County, but additionally regarding the variety of people we’ve been in a position to connect with companies,” Ramos stated.
Sept. 30 marked the tip of 12 months 2 of the three-year grant interval, with Ramos saying they’re seeking to maintain this system previous 2021.
The numbers present successes. Upon consumption, 20% of individuals surveyed reported drug use prior to now 30 days. Throughout three-month follow-up visits, the variety of individuals reporting drug use within the earlier 30 days dropped to 9.2% and at six months, the quantity dropped to 4.1%.
“This speaks volumes concerning the high-quality evidence-based scientific companies CODAC gives, but additionally kudos and props must exit to our peer help specialists within the discipline,” Ramos stated.
“Each day we nonetheless attempt to break the stigma of substance use and medication-assisted therapy,” Ramos stated. “That may be a excessive precedence amongst us.”
Serving to newcomers is a “Reprieve” to him
Whereas Bernard remains to be seeking to discover work, he’s additionally preparing to return to high school. He plans to begin at Pima Group School in January, taking courses towards incomes his GED whereas additionally taking courses to later switch to a four-year faculty.
He’s aiming for legislation faculty and says the decide gave him a strategy to have his convictions put aside or expunged. It’s a proposal he says is nice as much as three years after his convictions.
He’s additionally sponsoring individuals by way of Narcotics Nameless and Alcoholics Nameless, and passing alongside what he discovered by way of COPE and his personal experiences.
“We will solely preserve what we’ve by giving it away,” Bernard stated. “Serving to newcomers out each probability I get it’s a every day reprieve for me.” Bernard admits he has an extended street forward of him, however says life itself is a piece in progress and nothing occurs in a single day.
Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at email@example.com or 573-4191. Twitter: @caitlincschmidt