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Melissa Starr, vice president of Field Operations at Sentinel Offender Services, gives tours to law enforcement and guests during the grand opening of the Day Reporting Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)
Rachel Palmer, left, and her probation officer Gianna Griffin pose for a photo at UNLV on July 26, 2018. Photo by Michelle Rindels.

Rachel Palmer said it was efforts to self-medicate that plunged her in a cycle of jail, probation, probation violations and jail again. She had been diagnosed relatively late in life with attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder.

But she's now participating in the parole and probation division’s new Day Reporting Center program, and last Thursday, she was celebrating 156 days of sobriety alongside her probation officer, Gianna Griffin. Together, they’re working to ensure that Palmer stays clean and starts taking her next steps toward independence, including getting a job and finding her own place.

“This is her first crime, her first big thing … her first gross misdemeanor,” Griffin said at a recording of the IndyMatters podcast. “It doesn’t make her this lifelong criminal. People make mistakes. She was in an addiction, she committed a crime. It doesn’t mean she has to be treated like she’s the worst person in the world. Let’s help her get her life back in order so she doesn’t become a felon.”

These types of second and third chances are standard at the parole division, which has shifted direction in recent years to focus more on rehabilitating the people it supervises instead of just checking compliance and sending them back to jail for violations. The Legislature supported those changes with investments last year in new types of programming.

“Our job at Parole and Probation is to enforce the rules that the parole board dictates and the District Court dictates in the state. So they dictate and we enforce,” said Major Ann Carpenter. “This is the first time after the session that we have intermediate sanctions and different tools we can use rather than just jail.”

“Intermediate sanctions” means that when there’s some sort of technical violation, such as a failed drug test or other forms of self-sabotage, officers can add a more intense level of supervision and assistance instead of reverting straight to jail time. That can include state-funded house arrest and GPS monitoring, or having offenders take classes at the Day Reporting Center, a state-funded physical building in downtown Las Vegas where participants can meet with their probation officer and take weekly classes for anger management and parenting.

“Parole and Probation has come a long way from when we were trying to lock them up,” added Sgt. Don Morgan. “We’ve made great strides from 2013 to where we’re at.”

Palmer’s story follows that pattern. Griffin said she started working with Palmer around December, but found her to be a difficult case. Griffin would invite her to the Day Reporting Center and Palmer would agree, but then not show.

Palmer would test positive and then disappear rather than get help. They placed her at the Salvation Army, and then she was let go.

“It was just off and on, off and on, and we’d arrest her and I’d go and say we’re going to bring her back and we’re going to try this again,” Griffin said. “We’d had so many ups and downs and we’d been working with her for five or six months. I said to my sergeant, ‘I don’t want to arrest her.’ And he said, ‘Neither do I.’”

So Griffin went on the hunt for help for Palmer, and eventually came up with Solutions Recovery. The program would cost $12,000 — something that seemed prohibitively expensive, until Palmer’s mom agreed to pay for it.

“We told her, ‘If you mess up, we are going to give [your mom] the handcuffs so she can personally lock her up,'” Griffin recalls telling Palmer.

It turned out to be a turning point for Palmer, who realized she needed to fight as hard for her sobriety as others were.

“I was kinda plugged into [the Day Reporting Center] several times but I didn’t do the program at all. I didn’t care,” Palmer said. “But this last time they actually fought with me, with my mom to get me treatment. That showed a lot to me. These people are strangers and they’re fighting for me and I wasn’t fighting for myself anymore.”

Griffin said Palmer did “phenomenal” in her treatment. Earlier this summer, she spoke at a graduation ceremony for the Day Reporting Center; participants “graduate” when they complete a class on moral reconation therapy — a type of cognitive behavioral therapy aimed at helping people make better decisions.

So far, the Day Reporting Center has been running for about 10 months and has graduated 54 people. Funded by a $1.3 million, two-year allocation from the Legislature and managed by the company Sentinel Offender Services, it also offers wraparound services from providers including Nevada Job Connect — a network that links employers to potential workers.

Participants can use a computer lab to finish GED coursework or apply for jobs, they can meet with potential employers and they can sometimes pick up supplies such as hygiene kits with toiletries. Division administrator Natalie Wood said she hopes the center one day might also include a food bank.

The parole division is working with UNLV researchers to assess the effectiveness of the program compared to more traditional parole and probation models. They hope to have a report ready in time for the 2019 legislative session, when Wood may request more funding for the center.

Carpenter said some of the biggest needs the parole division notices are for more services for the mentally ill — perhaps more sobering centers where people can come and sleep off their drunkenness or high without having to book into jail.

She also hopes the state will invest in transitional housing. A few weeks or a month of housing often isn’t enough to help get people back on their feet, she said.

As for Palmer, she says the division needs good people. Griffin saw something in her that she didn’t even see in herself, she said.

“I had one probation officer who treated me like a statistic and didn’t want to see anything in me and then on the flip side, got officer Griffin and the DRC and it’s crazy how it’s completely different in this same system,” Palmer said. “That’s what this state needs. It’s not all about funding. That’s a huge thing obviously. They need people and facilities, and good people who can see the person behind the addict.”

Updated at 3:30 p.m. on August 3, 2018 to reflect Palmer is a participant, not a graduate, of the Day Reporting Center.

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