When prisoners leave the jail, whether it is a complete release or a release to probation or a halfway house, they leave with exactly what they had when they were arrested. This means that if someone were arrested in June in a pair of shorts and sandals, and if they have no family or friends to supply them, they may leave in December in shorts and sandals, and a bus token. This is the situation of material needs. The majority of offenders have both material and social needs. The Boulder County jail cannot provide extensive case management services. For example, a person may need help with securing housing, employment, food, clothing, transportation, and medication. If they are directly released, they are on their own. These services are often available in Boulder County, but putting a network of help together is daunting, as these services are conducted through separate agencies. The process of trying to make it all work while finding employment, making probation and mental health appointments, attending mandated classes, tracking down one’s children, and staying off alcohol and drugs is depressing and often overwhelming. In Boulder County, over 10,600 people are in the jail each year and one out of every two offenders returns to jail. Commander Bill Black of the Boulder County Jail has said, “We have a revolving door. A major cause of re-offending is the need for a hot meal and a place to sleep.”
The FOCUS program was started to bring some encouragement, support, friendliness and a reference point into these situations; to fill the gaps and help establish and maintain this basic network, while working with the offender to improve and stabilize his/her situation. Our offender mentees are often emotionally scarred individuals who have solved life challenges by relying on alcohol and drugs.
There are a few specific ministry programs which work with offenders, but there are no non-ministerial programs such as FOCUS. FOCUS is a secular program with strong collaborative relationships with many sectors of the community. Among our program supporters are diverse faith communities which provide numerous mentor volunteers, speaking to the fact that many people are serving in this way because of the inspiration of their private spiritual paths.