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Newton County Sheriff's Office become leaders in recidivism reduction

Across the state, law enforcement agencies are looking to find ways to reduce recidivism rates. 

But Sheriff Ezell Brown and the Newton County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) are not only looking at ways to reduce recidivism rates, but to become leaders in the category.

Recidivism is described as the tendency of offenders returning back to correctional facilities after their first offense.

Brown told The Covington News recidivism rates in Newton County have dropped by 50.6 percent since he came into office, something that Brown takes very seriously.

“As a law-enforcement officer for four to five decades, I believe lowering the recidivism rate is a big deal,” Brown said. “The reason why I say it’s a big deal, again look at all the benefits. I can’t just characterize just one benefit. There is an array of benefits from this. I think the main one is trying to make the community whole again.”

Brown stressed that it is about “breaking a cycle” that persists in today’s society.

“I attribute this to what I’ve watched and seen over the last four and five decades in law enforcement. I locked up great-grandfathers back in the ‘70s, I continue to lock up the grandaddys, then the sons and it goes on,” Brown said. “When I recognize that, I will tell them the same thing, that it’s time to break that cycle.”

How NCSO is currently taking steps to reduce recidivism

When looking at how the NCSO has reduced their recidivism rate, Brown pinpoints the influx of programs that have been created.

Per the NCSO website, there are 23 programs in place designed for inmate-residents to participate in. Programs such as anger management classes, substance abuse and drug-prevention classes and educational courses are available for the inmate-resident population.

While generalized education is provided, there is also an array of life skill-related courses.

Some of those include art programs, welding classes, soft skill management and yoga.

Outside of jail-related programming, steps are put into place to ensure that a former inmate-resident is on the right track. These include providing transportation to-and-from work, housing – which assists in reducing the homeless population – and check-ins from the office.

Most of these programs come at no cost to the inmate-residents or the sheriff’s office, with grant funding providing the main funding source. Brown said it’s all about wanting to help people succeed long-term.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Brown said. “Those are individuals that want to see society thrive and be better.”

Benefits for the community

Not only just financials, but when you look at the fact that you’re building families, and you’re turning lives around.
Sheriff Ezell Brown

While the benefits seem to be apparent for inmate-residents, Brown states that there is a benefit for the everyday taxpayer as well.

When looking at daily inmate costs, Brown said that it costs anywhere from $65-$85 per day to house one inmate, not including any medication that they may need. With inmate populations decreasing, Brown said that the everyday taxpayer has seen a positive impact with the decreased recidivism rate.

“Here we have noticed in the past year that we’ve saved more than $1,000,005,” Brown said. “As a result of the last couple of years close to $2 million because of the fact we’re able to keep those individuals out of jail.”

But it’s not just the financial impact that families across Newton County are reaping, it’s the emotional impact, too.

“Not only just financials, but when you look at the fact that you’re building families, and you’re turning lives around, you’re building the community because the community no longer has to take care of the individual through other resources,” Brown said.

The why?

Ezell Brown GSA
Sheriff Ezell Brown - photo by Courtesy of the Newton County Sheriff's Office

Brown boiled it down to three words when asked about why the NCSO is interested in its recidivism reduction.

“It’s all about love, compassion and care for one another. That’s what it’s about,” Brown said.

Additionally, Brown stressed that there is “nothing political” about recidivism reduction and that it is rooted in a commitment to service.

“I had many individuals who reached out and provided a hand to me,” Brown said. With that said, in my spiritual life, I still owe a large debt that I need to pay to all that was given to me.

“I don’t do things for politics. I do things for the good of the people.”

Looking at the future

In looking at ways to continue to decrease the recidivism rate, Brown said he wants to continue to put an emphasis on mental health awareness. 

He specifically cites that 50 percent of the inmate-resident population are on some form of “psychotropic drug” – a type of medication that is typically associated with anxiety, depression and other mental health-related issues.

The NCSO plans to add a co-responder position in the coming months that will assist in mental health-related calls. This co-responder would be a trained professional and respond alongside a deputy, with the goal of getting individuals the help they need rather than placing them in jail. The goal is for a full-fledged unit down the road.

Brown said that it is about looking at things with a different perspective than times before.

“Everybody now is looking through law enforcement through a different lens,” Brown said. “Before our concept was ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key.’ Now everyone knows that mental health plays an important role in the population of the jail.”

Plans are also in place to track the effectiveness of the many C.H.A.M.P.S. and drug awareness courses that take place in Newton County Schools. By acquiring that data, the NCSO hopes to see what is working for the program and what may not work so well.

NCSO aspires to be a ‘pilot program’

“We have always strived to be the best. Promises made was promises kept. I pledged that we would be one of the highlighting offices in the state of Georgia and abroad.”
Sheriff Ezell Brown

With the work that has been done, the NCSO hopes to provide a precedent for those across the state in reducing recidivism.

“We know if we’re able to help our residents here, crime has no boundary,” Brown said. “So if we’re able to help Walton County, Rockdale County and even Gwinnett County or wherever, then that may lessen the chances of someone coming here.”

Ultimately, the NCSO ‘s work to be a pilot program in recidivism reduction is a promise to the community that has been fulfilled.

“We have always strived to be the best. Promises made was promises kept,” Brown said. I pledged that we would be one of the highlighting offices in the state of Georgia and abroad.”