Jail and prison ministry is expanding efforts

Assistant director recruiting mentors in Waterloo area

By Dan Russo | Witness Editor

abcWATERLOO — Adapting to his new role as assistant director of Catholic Charities’ Jail and Prison Ministry hasn’t always been easy, but so far Deacon Phil Paladino is enjoying the challenge.

“I was working for 30 years in the corporate world,” said the deacon. “I was looking for something a little more meaningful. For me, it’s been a big transition, but overall it’s something that’s very rewarding. You’re able to help (people). I recently had a guy who came out of jail and I helped him re-connect with his mother. When you have something like that happen in your day, it makes it all worthwhile.”

Deacon Paladino started his job in the full time paid position last summer and is in the process of establishing a mentorship program that will work with the Waterloo area drug court to assist people with addiction problems. Those who qualify for the special court supervised program are able to seek treatment instead of going to prison. Support in the community, such as mentors, is key to help people overcome their issues and be­come productive members of society again, according to Deacon Paladino.

His effort is part of a new initiative by the Jail and Prison Ministry to expand its presence in the western parts of the Du­buque Archdiocese. Deacon Paladino is now responsible for focusing on Waterloo, Mason City, Ames and Marshalltown. Before he was hired those areas were covered mostly by volunteers overseen by Deacon Bill Hickson, Catholic Charities’ Jail and Prison Ministry Director.

“We decided we really do need a staff presence there,” said Deacon Hickson. “We’ve been trying to do it with volunteer coordinators in the past but it was difficult.”

A break through occurred about a year before Deacon Paladino started when the Trappists of New Melleray Abbey in Peosta gave a grant to Catholic Charities, which was dedicated to jail and prison ministry. This gave the agency the ability to hire an assistant director. Hickson said he is grateful to the monks and is satisfied with the progress Deacon Paladino has made so far.

“I’m very pleased with his efforts,” said Deacon Hickson. “Right from the start, he contacted the people in the system who are key players. He reached out to them. Getting this program started, you have to build relationships.”

The mentorship program being started in cooperation with the Waterloo drug court is modeled after an existing one the Jail and Prison Ministry does in partnership with the Dubuque area drug court. That initiative, founded in 2008, offers people the opportunity to work with mentors and circles of support and accountability. The mentors are volunteers who meet with participants one on one.

“Mentors provide them with a person who is a positive influence from the community,” explained Deacon Paladino. “We look for mentors to help them identify resources and define goals. The mentor is someone there to support them who is not part of the ‘system,’ so to speak.”

The circles of support and accountability consist of a group of volunteers that meet with the drug court participant on a regular basis to offer guidance. The majority of drug court participants in the Dubuque area work with the Jail and Prison Ministry program and it has led to success for many.

“The state recidivism rate is about 30 percent within three years of going off supervision,” said Hickson. “Folks who were linked with our support programs, according to our latest study, their recidivism rate is only 17 to 20 percent. Their chances of being successful are better if they work with a group like ours.”

The drug court program has been shown to save tax payers money, according to its supporters, because it is cheaper than incarceration. Nonetheless, the federal grant that funded the program ran out in Waterloo in 2012. Local government funded it for a time, but it was forced to shut down in June 2013. A similar situation happen­ed with Dubuque County’s drug court in 2013-2014, but the program was saved thanks to a $45,000 fundraising effort by local Catholic parishes, Catholic Charities and other concerned donors. In July 2014, Iowa state legislators allocated enough money to fund all drug courts across the state, according to Hickson. This paved the way for Waterloo to re-establish its drug court and allowed Deacon Paladino to begin his efforts.

“For the first four months, I went every day to court,” said Deacon Paladino. “In January, I presented the program to the staff. They agreed it’d be beneficial to some of the drug court clients. They’ve identified three women who are part of the drug court program and we’re in the process of assigning them mentors.”

The deacon hopes to begin with the men­toring aspect of the program and build up to creating circles of support similar to the Dubuque area program. Volunteers with the jail and prison ministry around the archdiocese are involved with ongoing efforts to visit people in prison, providing Bible studies and other services. Deacon Paladino is aiming to work with those volunteers, but also to improve services for people coming out of prison.

“What my focus is going to be is more on re-entry,” he said.

The Jail and Prison Ministry is always looking for volunteers to help out as mentors, in circles or with visits to prisons. The need is particularly apparent now that the mentorship program is expanding in the Waterloo area.

“We’re hoping to be able to meet any requests that come our way,” said Deacon Hickson.

Deacon Paladino reports that he has found mentors for the first three women who have elected to participate from the Waterloo area, but is searching for more volunteers — people with good listening skills, good organizational skills and a willingness to help.

“It’s a constant matching of needs and resources,” he said.

For more information on the Jail and Prison Ministry of Catholic Charities of the Dubuque Archdiocese, visit www.catholiccharitiesdubuque.org.