One of the biggest problems facing the nation’s prison and jail system is recidivism: about 70 percent of inmates will commit new crimes after completing their sentence. For one LMU alumna, the solution to that problem may lie behind bars.
Melissa (Daughtery) Ogletree ’08 works as a clinical therapist at the Boulder County Jail in Colorado, heading a program that has helped cut recidivism by providing counseling and other services to inmates. “This program helps inmates who have been released to re-integrate into society as productive citizens,” Ogletree said.
Inmates in the county jail where Ogletree works are either serving sentences of two years or less, or awaiting the results of their criminal trial. The services offered include individual therapy, group therapy, peer mentoring, and pre-entry and pre-release counseling. The inmates are also set up with a counselor once they are released from jail.
For Ogletree, who majored in political science at LMU, the adjustment to jail life was quick. But she notes that the job requires a specific type of person.
“It’s great experience to learn to carry yourself as a young professional female in this kind of environment,” Ogletree said. “You have to have an open and compassionate heart, but you have to be strong, too.”
In addition to helping the inmates overcome their own problems, Ogletree faces the negative perception of some jail administrators, officers, and much of the general public, who believe counseling will not help inmates, or that they do not deserve help to begin with.
“Most inmates want and strive for something better for themselves and their families,” Ogletree said, noting that many inmates are incarcerated because of substance abuse problems. “I help give people the space they need to be the person they’ve always wanted to be and allow them to practice it.”
Ogletree said she never can tell which of the inmates will follow through with the program after their release. One of her clients told her that he wanted nothing to do with the program once he left. Two days after he was released, he returned and signed up to work with a case manager.
“It’s really humbling,” Ogletree said. “It really teaches you to never give up. I have to put in the same amount of energy and compassion whether an inmate cusses me our or sings my praises.”
Ogletree credits Jodi Finkel, professor of political science at LMU, with mentoring her and inspiring her to pursue her career path. “Professor Finkel is the kind of professor who makes things happen,” Ogletree said. “She taught me how to confront my fears and to challenge myself.”