ALAMOSA — Communication is a top priority with Advantage Treatment Centers, Inc., new owner of the community corrections facility in Alamosa, staff told attendees at a community meeting on Tuesday.
“I hope that’s the message that’s sent tonight,” said Advantage Treatment Centers (ATC) President/Owner Douglas Carrigan.
ATC owns facilities in Sterling and Montrose and recently acquired the facility in Alamosa from the San Luis Valley Behavioral Health Group.
Carrigan commended the former owners and said they have worked well with him during the transition.
With more than 10 years in community corrections work, Kristie Garcia is the director of the ATC facility in Alamosa.
“You’ve got a great staff here,” Garcia told those attending the Tuesday evening meeting.
“We are here to help the community, not just the clients,” said Antonio Ornelas, client manager supervisor with nearly eight years experience. He said the clients are “somebody’s kid, somebody’s cousin, somebody’s dad. They are people just like you.”
They have just made mistakes, he said.
Kristina Daniel, vice president for program development with ATC in Alamosa, explained that community corrections facilities offer a sentencing alternative to prison or jail. Clients have more opportunities to work, receive treatment and be closer to families, she said.
Daniel explained that either through internal or contracted services, clients might receive substance abuse, mental health and cognitive treatment as well as employment and life skills training. Clients can also work towards GED’s through Trinidad State Junior College, Daniel said, or go to Adams State.
In addition to the facility’s residential clients, ATC provides services to people who are on probation and parole as well, she said.
The facility, which in ATC’s case is a for-profit facility (previously operated by the nonprofit behavioral health group), receives per diem funds ($45 a day) from the Division of Criminal Justice as well as rent ($15 a day) from the clients housed there, Daniel explained.
“That’s why they have to get a job,” she said.
She compared the $8,621 per year costs of housing someone in community corrections to the $36,892 per year it costs to house someone in prison, per 2015 figures.
Across the state, the average length of stay in community corrections facilities is 187 days, as of 2014, Daniel added.
Most of the 70 or so clients at the ATC facility in Alamosa are from the San Luis Valley, the 12th Judicial District. The facility’s capacity is 125-150, but Daniel said the facility could realistically hold 100 with the current staffing levels.
The facility is overseen by a board that includes representatives from the judicial system, law enforcement and the community, and a screening committee reviews every person referred for local placement. As a rule, the committee will not accept sex offenders or violent offenders from outside the Valley, Daniel added.
Several area residents spoke during the community meeting, some to share suggestions, others to share concerns.
Regarding employment, one business owner said she used to be hit up all the time by community corrections clients who had to go look for jobs, but that has not happened in recent years. Carrigan said the job search process is more structured and specific, rather than a scattered approach. Clients prepare resumes and go to places where they are more likely to find a job.
Ornelas added that clients are not just working in Alamosa but also outside of town like at the mushroom farm or for Idaho Pacific in Center. ATC transports several clients to work every day and sends them out with a sack lunch, staff explained.
One concern was that the main areas where community corrections clients find jobs are in food service and hotels, which means other local residents such as teens looking for their first job cannot find work. Carrigan said since most of the people residing at the local facility are from this area, they would be coming back here to find jobs anyway.
“We are going to work hard at finding other employers,” Carrigan said.
A couple of the attendees were employers who have hired community corrections clients, one in construction and others in the restaurant business. They said these were some of their most skilled workers.
Carrigan said another benefit for community corrections clients as workers is “these guys have to show up.”
There was some concern that clients were not allowed to see counselors they had become accustomed to. Daniel said they have a choice but also have to go where their insurance will pay.
Carrigan said he would be glad to discuss the issue with the counseling group, because he wanted clients to have as many options as possible.
Other suggestions around counseling for clients included: provide more family-related counseling, since family issues contribute to many of the clients’ struggles; focus on the positive, helping clients believe they are significant and their lives can make a difference; and providing parenting classes, perhaps making it mandatory.
Carrigan said the facility has tried to increase family involvement through more formal conversations as well as informal gatherings like barbecues.
Ornelas added that visitation times are more frequent now as well.
Community members also asked how they could help. Some had become involved with community corrections clients, for example through local church attendance, and wondered what was appropriate as far as giving them money or food. Daniel said residents should not give them money or food, because their basic needs are met at the facility. If there are other issues, the community member could bring it up to the client’s case manager. The facility staff cannot discuss specific clients because of confidentiality, however.
Ornelas said clients are allowed to keep nonperishable food items in their rooms. In addition, family members are now allowed to bring in home cooked meals.
Those attending Tuesday’s gathering also shared concerns about monitoring ATC clients and community safety. ATC staff talked about the tracking and monitoring that occurs and encouraged residents to call the facility if they had concerns. Ornelas said clients who have reached certain levels are allowed to have cell phones as a privilege, and that provides the facility with another means of tracking clients.
Staff said if residents see clients conducting suspicious activity that is not necessarily criminal, they can call the facility, but if they believe a crime is being committed, they need to call the police.
The group talked about the possibility of issuing reverse 9-1-1 messages to the neighborhood when incidents occur such as the attack by a client on a staff member and the client’s subsequent escape from the facility. Although the client caught a ride out of town immediately afterwards, neighbors did not know that and were concerned for their safety.
There were also some concerns about clients being treated unfairly, like an employer not paying them for all of their time, and staff encouraged residents to call with those concerns, and they would look into them.
“We work hard to meet everybody’s individual needs,” Daniel said.
Caption: Advantage Treatment Centers, Inc. President Douglas Carrigan, second from left, speaks during a community meeting Tuesday night regarding community corrections. At left is Antonio Ornelas, client manager supervisor, center is Kristie Garcia, director of the Advantage center in Alamosa, and at right is Kristina Daniel, vice president for program development.