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ELLSWORTH — A program to help former Hancock County Jail inmates with substance abuse issues find jobs got a boost Tuesday from the Hancock County Commissioners.

The board voted to appropriate $100,000 in community benefit funds, which are derived from wind turbine revenues, for the program.

Several people spoke in favor of the program, including a participant.

“Just the concept is incredible,” said Mike Bibro, a counselor at Open Door Recovery Center, who spends several days a week at the jail. The program is necessary in ensuring that when someone leaves the jail, “they’re less likely to return to it.”

Commissioner Bill Clark asked if addiction was the requirement for getting in the program.

The participants have had a problem with “dependency,” replied Commissioner Percy “Joe” Brown.

“We have a lot of groups beating down the opiate problem,” Brown said. “You get them clean and put them on a street corner with a job and they’re going to be right back.”

“It not only helps our jails … it also helps people in the workforce out there, making a living and paying their taxes,” Brown said. “That’s what we like. What we spend on this program is a drop in the bucket compared to what their life is worth.”

Tri-County Workforce Development Director Joanna Russell, who also manages the Hancock County Workforce Recovery Program, said “there’s a lot to be proud of.”

Russell said the program has started in Penobscot County with the Bangor Area Recovery Network.

A Waldo County commissioner is also interested.

Missy Morris has gone through the program.

“I was one of the first ones in the very first group of the program,” Morris said. “It helped me a lot. It taught me a lot.”

Morris had never had a job interview before going through the program so that training was important.

Of the $100,000 funding, $50,000 will go to Open Door Recovery Center for counseling, which occurs in the jail as well after inmates are released.

Another $15,000 will go to Eastern Maine Development Corp., which prepares the former inmates for job interviews once they’re out of jail.

Russell explained that low self-esteem is one of the biggest challenges for someone in recovery.

“It’s difficult for someone in an interview to even talk,” Russell said. During the EMDC part of the program, participants do a lot of work preparing to engage with an employer, she said.

The remaining $35,000 will be used as a minimum wage stipend for the work experience participants receive.

“They’re assigned to a Hancock County employer to work for four to six weeks to give them an opportunity to show their stuff,” Russell said. “Hopefully the employer can hire that person.”

Russell said they hope to have 45 participants in 2018. There were about half that number in 2017.

Corrections Administrator Tim Richardson encouraged the board to fund the program.

“What they do is far beyond what I can do in my budget,” Richardson said.

The vote was unanimous. However, Commissioner Bill Clark said he’s bothered that the county doesn’t have any system for allocating community benefit funds.

“We’re picking and choosing based on some unknown criteria,” Clark said. “I wish we could sit down and review this process.”

Reproduced courtesy The Ellsworth American ~ Written by Jennifer Osborn

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