Van Beek: Curtailing the criminal in you
Everyone has had times when their behavior might be considered criminal. Just think back to your youth.
Certainly, there are those in society who have criminal intent — their motives are to take away from or harm others. However, in Eagle County, most of those arrested are people who simply chose unwisely, which resulted in doing something foolish and illegal, and others who are under such duress from circumstances in their lives that they are not thinking clearly and react in a manner uncharacteristic to their normal demeanor and personal values.
We also must recognize that some people, particularly after the year we’ve had, are suffering from an ignored or undiagnosed psychological or physical condition, which may lead to erratic behavior. That behavior can land them in jail.
Incarceration is meant to be a deterrent, yet for it to truly be effective, you must identify and address the issues behind the actions that caused the extreme situation.
In Eagle County, there is a commitment to our neighbors to help them through difficulty. Sometimes, there is a price to pay for poor decisions and bad behavior, but we assume that good values are at the core of most people, and we hope that during one’s stay at the detention center, we can get their undivided attention and address the issues that led them there, which have sometime been neglected for years. Our hope is that when you leave, we never see you here again.
That sentiment is best expressed by Greg Van Wyk, captain of the detention division for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office: “My goal is to work my way out of a job!”
The transition back to “normal” begins immediately upon arrival. We arrange a medical evaluation, secure needed prescriptions and provide for restricted diets. We then introduce behavior modification, counseling, addiction awareness, emotional support, medical sustainability, nutritional awareness and vocational skills development. Our responsibility is not to warehouse people but to help them through a difficult time.
Detention center deputies provide the doorway to regaining that sense of normalcy. They offer an extensive partnership with medical, social, faith and community organizations.
Upon release, we connect people to community programs specific to their needs, like housing, child care and support groups. However, we have discovered that job skill training can begin right here. After all, we have their undivided attention and plenty of time.
Frequently, people are dealing with unemployment, feeling lost and unsure of their future and struggling to provide for their families. Acquiring and retaining a job is essential for them to move forward. That financial security, self-esteem and contribution to community are all critical in stabilizing a life gone astray. Housing, food, medical, family expenses and other bills are directly connected to income, and desperation sinks in when those essentials are missing.
One of the greatest paths out of poverty and despair is an education. Vocational training must begin with a base level of functioning skills. One of the most basic is a high school diploma. It assures minimum competency in language, math, science and social studies. For example, while we may not recall a need for advanced calculus, we do utilize our basic math skills every time we go to the store, make a bank deposit or pay a bill.
To that point, we have partnered with Colorado Mountain College to offer the GED at the detention center. Once a GED course is complete, people may continue with CMC, utilizing a voucher system that will be in place to help with both preparation for the exam and potential tuition reimbursement upon successful completion of all GED courses.
Also offered are programs on financial literacy, creative writing (providing an ability to express deeply held emotions) and other courses, for those who already have a diploma. We have numerous workbooks and journals to help inmates prepare for various certifications.
A few of the upcoming programs include a fitness-based focus towards sobriety. Membership is free to those with 48 hours of sobriety and features peer mentors as instructors and on-demand videos for those still in detention or unable to participate in-person. It’s part of a lifestyle reboot for those with addictions.
We will also soon be offering a program in hospitality, which will enable participants to receive a “Serve Safe” certification, which provides vocational kitchen training, in conjunction with the Colorado State University Extension Office.
The Eagle County Sheriff’s Office is dedicated to protecting and serving, and sometimes that requires a level of creativity and innovation to help our neighbors and friends get back on track.
If you are interested in volunteering for any of these programs, or would like to offer something new, we would love to hear from you. It’s an opportunity to help someone who may have hit rock-bottom and just needs a little lift from a friend.
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at email@example.com.