Written by Andrew Jones, Denver Sheriffs Department (DSD) Program Administrator, Downtown Denver Detention Center – July 2020

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A DSD pod in the Adopt-A-Pod program sits for a community-led session.

“I have been working with the DSD and the City and County of Denver a little over nine years.  I have had the great opportunity and have been blessed with a phenomenal team of professionals to work with.  Chaplain Hosea Cannon has been with the Denver Sheriff Department for 32 years having served as a Deputy, Instructor/Trainer, and Chaplain.  He not only serves as a strong leader within the DSD but also throughout the Denver Metro area where he is well known.  Ms. Daphne Walker is the DSD’s only CACIII (Certified Addictions Counselor) and she has served with the Department for a little over ten years.  She naturally goes above and beyond to ensure that the clients/inmates she works with are provided the best resources available with the hopes of having much better outcomes for those she serves.  I also want to be sure to acknowledge those of our team who have recently moved on to other positions with the City and State in Mr. John Wolter and Ms. Frances Blair and were very much a part of the solidarity of our team.

Our Team is dedicated to the betterment of all those we work and meet.  As the Chaplain often explains, we want people to leave here [the jail] better than they came in.  We believe in the team over individual accomplishment with the understanding we cannot do what we do alone.  Everyone is valuable, and life is a precious thing.  Everyone naturally and consistently places every effort into their work with the goal of uplifting people, especially in their darkest hour.

In my mind’s eye innovation comes from the heart.  I believe that we all have the innate ability to come up with ideas that are stirred by a passion, desire for change, and/or everything in-between.  In my case, while working within the DSD it became and is readily evident that providing services to inmate populations is a challenge due to financial restrictions.  There is funding available; however, not a lot of commercial companies want to invest in the possible future of an “inmate” not realizing potential and the understanding that jails and prisons are no more than a microcosm of society in general.  Especially in the jail setting, the majority of those in its care will be returning to the outside community and standing next to us in the lines at the grocery store or walking in the park for example!

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A DSD pod in the Adopt-A-Pod program sits for a community-led session.

A lack of funding causes any number of shortfalls; inability to field a quality staff to work with the population, inability to provide exit resources (hygiene for those returning to homelessness), and despite sounding redundant to the untrained ear, but having enough staff to help research, guide, and contact individuals in the jail population.

The primary skill (tool) that the Peak Academy helped ignite my innovation was the identification of “waste”.  The waste associated with human services in a secured environment (jail) can be immense; again, there is not always much value placed in those that are incarcerated.  Waste in jail can come in the form of inadequate space available for inmate instruction (classrooms), abbreviated time constraints for various productive activities, bureaucracy, and limited funding sources which in turn have their own red tape attached when and if they decide to offer any financial assistance.  Tying all the identified wastes together it became very evident what steps needed to be taken to overcome the many shortfalls of providing human services to an inmate population.

Adopt-A-Pod was my innovation being a Supervisor of a team of DSD colleagues with the focus of improving the use of existing resources to encourage better outcomes for the individuals the DSD serves.  The adopt-A-Pods concept is very straight forward and simple; leverage outside community agencies [which have experience and established resources], encourage them to “adopt” a pod/housing unit within the jail and focus their energies on inmates that reside in those respective units.  The community agencies provide basic case management, spiritual and emotional support, general encouragement, and that human connection that is missed while being incarcerated as expressed by inmates.

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Francis Blair & Rebecca Wildermuth work with a DSD inmate from one of the project’s pods.

Intangible benefits of Adopt-A-Pod are the volunteers of the program are additional eyes and ears available to ensure the safety and well-being of inmates, they are available to continue services upon the inmate leaving the jail improving the chances of the inmate making contact due to familiarity and comfort; because it involves volunteers Adopt-A-Pod does not cost the City and County of Denver or Denver Sheriff Department anything!

Adopt-A-Pod allows for more involvement of the outside community in the improvement of those incarcerated, bridges the gap between community and government, and provides an educational foundation for both volunteer participants and inmates.

Adopt-A-Pod has been working well in the pods that it has been implemented.  The numbers suggest that in combination with other interventions (e.g. more Deputy interaction, more access to mental health staff where needed) there are fewer negative incidents (e.g. altercations, grievances).  The goal, of course, is to implement Adopt-A-Pod to all appropriate pods.  I would say ideally every pod; however, the DSD DDC (Downtown Detention Center) and County facilities have some specialized Program pods which hold appropriate accommodations for its participants.

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Hosea Cannon Jr., gives a sermon to DSD inmates.

Fortunately, there are not many challenges associated with Adopt-A-Pod; however, those that exist can and still manifest having to be worked through regularly.   One such issue is the question of access to inmates.  Safety and security are always at the forefront of any secured facility.  DSD Programs staff being civilians have full access to every part of the facility; however, outside civilians are understandably limited to certain areas.  My work with Adopt-A-Pod involves continued negotiations with Command Staff to convince them more access to the living quarters of inmates where program activities can be conducted in the day rooms for example is feasible and of benefit.

 

More recently and currently the COVID-19 pandemic is causing an obvious challenge due to having to suspend volunteers and contractors coming into the facility.  Conceivably, the rest of the year can be in jeopardy with services having to be reintroduced in tiers with the most pressing taking priority (e.g. Substance Education).

The only thing that I would do differently with my innovation if I were starting from scratch is I would not have been so methodical in my approach.  I would have simultaneously implemented the Program on an entire floor rather than particular pods over a period of time.  I would do the aforementioned based on inmate movement specifically in the Downtown Detention Center.

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Andrew Jones & Carrie Stanley  (Program Manager & DSD Chief of Staff) take a team picture with the DSD Programs’ Team (JaQuale Brooks, Francis Blair, Hosea Cannon Jr., Daphne Walker, Lisa Mondragon, Rebecca Wildermuth, Jennifer Jordan, & Karen Mills)

My advice to innovators does not overthink what you are looking to achieve.  There will always be pros and cons to anything; don’t allow the wave of thoughts to overwhelm you and alter your course of action.  Plan well based on experience and prudent input, implement your plan, and adjust as you go from there.  Overthinking only deters from your great idea.”

 

At the end of the day, Andrew and his team saved their program $15K/year in soft dollar costs (conservative approximation of employee time), & the pods involved in the project saw the number of incidents between inmates, grievances submitted, and kite requests decreased by 10%, which is significant. The aforementioned indicates that “inmates are getting their questions answered and basic needs met without having to wait for assistance for an extended period of time.”

 

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