January 27, 2023

Timothy Tardibono

January is National Mentorship Month and those of us who work in the criminal justice system know how much a good mentor can do for those who work in the justice system.

The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council works with ReMerge Oklahoma, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) pre-trial diversion program that works with the Oklahoma County court system. ReMerge helps mothers access job training, counseling and other resources and avoid jail time for nonviolent crimes.

After thorough scrutiny by the courts, prosecutors, and public defender’s office, ReMerge participants embark on a two-year journey to gaining employment, sobriety, and recovery. Participants receive safe and sober housing, food, clothing, transportation, access to mental and physical health care, and addiction recovery. You will be assigned a support team consisting of a case manager, therapist, health manager, child reunion manager and an education and employment coordinator. These highly qualified specialists offer a holistic approach to the services and mentoring needed by those who are inducted into the justice system. With her support system intact, Sara Hill, a recent ReMerge graduate, sobered up and embarked on a career that she says has drastically improved her life and the lives of her children.

Determined never to lose her children to drugs, prison, or poverty again, Hill said her top priorities during the ReMerge program were gaining sobriety and employment.

She joined the ReMerge Pathways program, which provides participants with career training and education opportunities tailored to specific industries. During the program, Hill focused on information technology and now serves as the office manager and information technology coordinator for SendaRide, an Oklahoma-based ride-sharing company. As an employment partner of ReMerge, SendaRide is fulfilling a critical need by providing employment to help Hill and her ReMerge colleagues meet the court’s employment requirements.

Diversion programs throughout Oklahoma County, including ReMerge, Diversion Hub, Center for Employment Opportunities and TEEM, help participants receive training in the industries that the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development has identified as critical industries in our state, including information technology industries , healthcare, construction management and education. These diversionary programs proudly boast high success rates that are ultimately a win for Oklahoma’s criminal justice system, workforce and economy.

Since its inception in 2011, 166 mothers have completed ReMerge, sparing the Oklahoma County detention center and state prison system additional residents and saving the state of Oklahoma an estimated $39 million.

A 2010 study by RTI International and Temple University found that if just 10 percent of those eligible for diversion went to diversion programs instead of jail, the criminal justice system would save $4.8 billion.

CJAC is proud to work with organizations like ReMerge, TEEM, The Center for Employment Opportunities, and others whose work in the fields of rehabilitation and prison diversion is helping stories like Sara Hill’s become the norm, not the exception.

Timothy Tardibono is Executive Director of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council, the organization focused on reform efforts.

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