The Sarasota County Correctional Facility remains one of the most progressive and innovative correctional facilities in the state of Florida. With daily operations requiring 140 deputies and civilians to manage the care, custody and control of an average of 900 inmates, the safety and security of the facility is no easy task. While the division prides itself on efficiency, professionalism and overall safety, modernization of the correctional setting has taken their day-to-day functions to the next level.
Today, corrections personnel are working to change the thinking of those incarcerated at the facility by concentrating on responsibility, rehabilitation and reentry. Staff focuses on helping offenders see the importance of taking control of their lives, changing their thinking, and working to make themselves better while incarcerated. This process is made possible with the assistance of the agency’s programs unit. As of today, the facility offers more than 50 programs that inmates can attend to help in their transformation.
Offenders regularly face countless barriers once released from the facility which include housing, transportation, employment, identification, substance abuse, education, and access to community resources. To best assist offenders upon release, two re-entry navigators were added to the programs unit in early 2020. The re-entry navigators assist in identifying barriers and linking individuals to appropriate services within the community. The programs unit also helps manage the nearly 700 weekly requests for various types of services from attendance at recovery and devotional classes to scripture and literature reading materials. Of the dozens of programs offered, some of the most popular include housing in the faith-based and addiction recovery pods, specialized parenting classes for both men and women, adult and juvenile education, and enrollment in the Sheriff’s Offender Work Program.
Keeping in line with the evolving needs of inmates housed in a full-service facility and the need to rehabilitate and prepare offenders for reentry, the sheriff’s office created several specialty programs including the Recovery Pod, C.A.R.E. Pod, Re-Entry Pod and Veteran’s Housing Unit.
The Recovery Pod provides a place where like-minded inmates with similar experiences can work together in a recovery-focused environment that encourages them to address their addiction issues. Residents meet for two Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) meetings daily and two Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings weekly. AA is concerned solely with the personal recovery and continued sobriety of individual alcoholics who turn to fellowship for help. NA uses a traditional 12-step model that has been expanded and developed for people with varied substance abuse issues.
The Collaborative Approach to Reintegration through Education (C.A.R.E.) Pod was created out of necessity identified by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. C.A.R.E. provides individuals with chronic and persistent mental health conditions an environment conducive to reintegration into society. C.A.R.E. focuses on medication compliance, healthy coping strategies, and effective communication skills. Licensed Mental Health Counselors meet with residents daily to conduct group counseling and provide individualized treatment sessions.
The goal of the Re-Entry Pod is to assist inmates with reintegration into the community, reduce recidivism, and improve public safety. Individuals coming out of incarceration face countless barriers when returning to our community which is why the Re-entry Pod was created. The pod aims to reduce those barriers by teaching inmates how to craft a resume, how to interview, build relationships, manage finances, and more The pod also hosts job fairs to link offenders with local employers who offer career opportunities upon release.
The Veterans Housing Unit was created to reestablish connections for eligibility of veteran services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Residents are evaluated and informed of job opportunities and their possible qualification for GI bill benefits. Residents receive regular support from volunteers and members of the military and veteran communities. They also receive guidance from Sarasota County’s Veterans Services Officers and attend meetings to understand available services upon release. Vet to vet services include mentoring and support from Volunteers of America. Participation in the Veterans Housing Unit is voluntary, and veterans must meet certain criteria to qualify.
The facility is always looking for ways to offer unique opportunities to all inmates to help inmates better themselves before they are released. Through progressive initiatives and forward thinking, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office is changing lives one inmate at a time.