COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A stint in jail may be the best thing that ever happened to Urick Phillips.
"I'm a changed person, pretty much," says the soft-spoken 37-year-old. "I still have ups and downs, but I'm more able to function in society. The program just did a lot for me."
It's apparently done a lot for many other ex-offenders as well. Since SET Family Medical Clinics started CHRP in 2008, about 1,440 people released from the El Paso County jail or Department of Corrections facilities have taken part in the program, and its coordinator, Tina Gonzales, says only 7 percent have re-offended in that time. Three-year recidivism rates for those coming out of the state system have been running at slightly over 50 percent, according to the Office of State Planning and Budgeting.
"We feel like we have a really wonderful story to tell to the state: that this is a program that works," says Zelna Joseph, SET's president and CEO, and the driving force behind CHRP.
One of the key components of CHRP is, as the name implies, providing comprehensive health care for people coming out of the criminal justice system.
"We started the program on the belief that if a person is sick, if they have mental health issues and don't feel well, it's hard to get a job and provide for themselves," Joseph says.
SET provides the health care and case management; then, a network of about four dozen other community agencies works together to address other barriers facing the program participants, such as employment and housing.
Mental illness and one of its close relatives, substance abuse, are huge issues in the prison and jail populations. The Colorado Office of State Planning and Budgeting reported in 2007 that the Department of Corrections had seen a 583 percent increase in the number of mentally ill offenders over 13 years, and 78 percent of DOC inmates had substance abuse problems. The problem is reflected in the patients enrolled in CHRP.
"I see mental health issues in almost all of them — major depression, bipolar, schizophrenia," says Dr. Elliot Cohen, a Colorado Springs psychiatrist who has been in private practice for 30 years and started volunteering with CHRP last year. "I believe about half the people in prison are in there because they have bipolar manic attacks and an inappropriate impulsive response."