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Offender Reentry Community Safety Program Highlighted at Statewide Behavioral Health Conference

July 11, 2016

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

ORCS Presenter: DOC Program Administrator Angela Clark

ORCS Presenter: DOC Program Administrator Angela Clark See photo gallery...

YAKIMA — Incarcerated people with significant mental health issues who pose a risk to public safety should be connected to community resources before they leave prison, says Angela Clark, a program administrator with the Washington Department of Corrections. It's all part of an ongoing effort to help inmates successfully transition back into the community.

The concept of providing mental health and supporting resources to inmates before they return to society is one of the main goals of the Offender Reentry Community Safety (ORCS) program. “The whole purpose is to help people with significant mental illness transition to the community and get them set up with resources for success,” said Clark, who oversees the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) program.

Clark, DOC Community Corrections Officer Dan Weiss, and Jacqueline Harmon from Sound Mental Health spoke about the accomplishments of the ORCS program at the Washington Behavioral Healthcare Conference held at the Yakima Convention Center last month.

The ORCS program was created in 2000 as a result of legislation intended to enhance public safety by providing transition planning, mental health treatment and community support for inmates identified as mentally ill or having intellectual disabilities and who are a risk to the public or themselves. ORCS is a collaboration between the DOC and the Department of Behavioral Health Services’ Behavioral Health Administration .

Inmates who may qualify for the programs are reviewed by the ORCS committee. The committee consists of individuals form DOC, DSHS, law enforcement, chemical dependency and mental health organizations. The committee looks at factors such as the inmate’s criminal history, whether or not the individual has a history of violence, co-occurring disorders and prison behavior.

Clark noted the reviews are intensive. Reviews look at mental health records from the institution, community health providers and psychiatric hospitalizations. They can also include police reports and probable causes to find inmates who fit the criteria.

“It (the level of violence) may not always be apparent in their charges,” Clark said.

About 865 inmates in the state of Washington have been placed into in the ORCS program since it started. Once designated, inmates can receive various pre-and post-release services.

Types of Services

ORCS Presenters: From left to right: DOC Program Administrator Angela Clark, Sound Mental Health Representative Jacqueline Harmon and Community Corrections Officer Dan Weiss

Multi-system Care Planning Teams meet with the inmate to come up with treatment and crisis plans focused on successful transition into the community.

The plans identify potential sources of support in the community such as from family members and social service organizations. Members of the team can include the inmate’s:

  • Classification Counselor
  • Health Services Mental Health Staff
  • Community Corrections Officer
  • Community Mental Health Provider or DSHS Program Representative
  • Other identified support persons

The team also identified support that may be available to the inmate the day of release. For example, corrections staff may bring the inmate to a Sound Health Mental Health campus on the day of their release, adds Weiss. There, the inmate can complete a housing intake and is assisted during the move-in process. The inmate is also given a small stipend for basic necessities such as food, clothing and bus pass.

In the weeks following release, ORCS partners help all inmates in the program attend a medication management session and create a daily schedule with their case manager. They also may refer the inmate to individual or group therapy sessions. As part of the plan to return to the community, an inmate’s assigned mental health agency can refer him or her to additional services it deems necessary. These can range from chemical dependency and/or sex offender treatments, to vocational skills training and education programs.

The Washington Behavioral Healthcare Conference also held other workshops on topics of behavioral health in correctional settings including:

  • Exploring the Need for Independent Oversight of Washington’s Jails and Prisons: Experts from Disability Rights Washington discussed findings from its Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities (AVID) initiative. Organization officials said it met quarterly with DOC staff to discuss how the agency is addressing needs of inmates with disabilities. They highlighted the Skill Building Unit at Washington Corrections Center in Shelton as an example. The Skill Building Unit is a special housing unit at the prison for inmates with cognitive disabilities and inmates with traumatic brain injuries.
  • Human Trafficking and Screening at Clark County Jail: Panelists from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office , YWCA of Clark County and the Longview-based non-profit organization Lifeworks Northwest highlighted a screening process the agencies launched together to identify inmates in the county’s jail that had been victims of human trafficking and help connect them to victim’s services in the community.
  • The Mental Health Sentencing Alternative: A Rural Approach to a National Problem: Representatives from Cascade Mental Healthcare and the Lewis County Prosecutor’s and Sheriff’s offices discussed how they used the Mental Health Sentencing Alternative to improve services to jail inmates in need of sentencing options that support mental health recovery. The program provides additional case management services to participants as well as ongoing court follow-ups.