Cass County Jail launching program aimed at education, reducing repeat offenders

Published: May. 5, 2022 at 6:00 PM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Change is coming to the Cass County Jail soon and it’s aiming to both educate and better help inmates in hopes of increasing safety, lowering recidivism and reinvigorating the workforce.

The program is called R.E.I.G.N.I.T.E., which stands for residential, enhancement and individual growth naturally and intentionally through education.

“We hope to create opportunities for our incarcerated population to use their time constructively, and hopefully prepare them to reenter our community motivated and equipped to succeed,” Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner said.

Officials say in order to make the program successful, they need the community to step up and volunteer your time to bring your trade or specialty to the jail and teach inmates.

“We need teachers and trainers to step up with time to provide their expertise; whether it’s plumbers, electricians, truck drivers, welders, ag workers, you name it, we need it,” former Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney said.

“I look forward to the day where we have inmates debating the answers to the work that they’re doing rather than the channel they’re going to watch on television,” Cass County Jail Administrator Captain Andy Frobig said.

Frobig says there’s been a shift in attitudes for inmates at the jail over the last two years as COVID-19 shut outside programs down, and most haven’t started back up yet. He and Sheriff Jahner say because of this, there have been more assaults and a higher level of agitation within the jail. Frobig also says each year about 50 percent of the inmates that come through the jail are already well-known to staff. R.E.I.G.N.I.T.E. aims to change that.

“If somebody gets post-incarceration training or education, the chances of recidivism drops 47 percent and if you think about that in any county jail, that’s significant,” Genesee County, Mich., Jail Administrator, Captain Jason Gould said.

The R.E.I.G.N.I.T.E. program is active in four other states, including Genesee County, Mich., where Gould says since beginning the program, his jail has seen assaults within the jail drop a whopping 96 percent.

“The floors, because they are direct supervision, were frequently very loud. You couldn’t talk at a normal level inside the housing unit. Now, when I.G.N.I.T.E.’s there you can hear a pin drop,” he said.

“In doing this, we can generate behavior change and we can break the cycle of criminal behavior. We can break and tear down the revolving doors in and out of jail,” Laney said.

Sheriff Jahner says his office is looking to include educators, mental health counselors, as well as those in the trades and special services. Jahner, Laney and Frobig say their goal of immersing the program into Cass County is to create a culture change that will stop or slow the vicious cycle of inmates being released from jail, only to return weeks later on new charges.

“I refuse to be a warehouse for people. The R.E.I.G.N.I.T.E. concept in conjunction with all the other programs that we have worked on in the past will allow us to not be a warehouse for people, but to allow inmates the chance to succeed and have some hope for a better life when they leave the Cass County Jail,” Laney said.

There’s currently no official start date for the program, but Jahner says his office is already working on securing various community partnerships, and encourages you to reach out if interested in helping.

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