In downtown OKC, the Oklahoma County Jail holds on average between 1,000 to 3,000 individuals. A massive 80 percent of those inmates have yet to even be convicted and are still awaiting trial. The multitude of faults found within the jail and court system seem hopeless, but several non-profits have arisen around the Oklahoma City area to serve the people who are suffering from the broken system.
Incarceration is not simply a binary issue–it is a messy cycle that keeps people trapped in the mistakes that they have made. The justice system too often focuses on punitive punishment rather than recovery, which then contributes to the high rates of recidivism in the jails and prisons.
Oklahoma is the leading state in the world for incarceration, and God has reached out to his children to do something about it. Oklahoma City-based ministries such as the Education and Employment Ministry and ReMerge provide services to those who are recovering from incarceration as well as those who are still caught in the system.
The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM), an Oklahoma City non-profit, planted itself just a few blocks away from the Oklahoma County Jail. TEEM’s mission is to disband the cycle of incarceration in Oklahoma, not by punishment but by educating those who are trapped in that cycle.
Staff members at TEEM work with Oklahoma County judges and public defenders to track candidates who are currently in the county jail or those in danger of being placed in the jail. The organization, as well as the court system, make sure that candidates for TEEM will indeed benefit from the services that are offered.
Ben Klippert, a pre-trial release case manager at TEEM, and a Southern Nazarene University (SNU) alum, said that in the case that TEEM posts bond for an individual in the Oklahoma County Jail. “Each potential client is interviewed and assessed by a TEEM representative while they are in county and sign an individualized list of conditions depending on assessed need.”
Once they are officially a part of the TEEM ministry, clients are provided with an individualized plan in which they are held accountable for their recovery with the help of the TEEM staff which includes a range of positions. The organization has staff members who help educate clients in culinary arts, vocational training, GED preparations and various certifications; social workers who work directly with clients; an attorney that represents clients and counselors.
Klippert said, “Every single day, I get to rejoice in jobs that enable people to provide for themselves—50-day sobriety chips from AA, parents being reunited with children, and people being able to see themselves in the loving and proud way that God sees them.”
All of the services that are offered at TEEM are meant to provide a holistic type of recovery for clients as a way to prevent recidivism for the participant, as well as to prevent the family members of clients from becoming a victim of the vicious cycle of incarceration.
“In my time with TEEM, I have seen people set free, not just in the sense of being released from the jail but from poverty, addiction, and hopelessness,” said Klippert.
ReMerge, a similar organization based in Oklahoma City is a divergence program for pregnant women and mothers who have been incarcerated or are potentially facing incarceration. The program offers an alternative to incarceration for women who meet the requirements for the program.
According to their website, “ReMerge works alongside the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to reduce the rate at which women are incarcerated and interrupt the intergenerational cycle of incarceration and poverty.”
It has been proven that children whose parents have been previously incarcerated are more likely to be incarcerated themselves. By working with mothers and pregnant women, ReMerge aims to stop the family-based cycle of incarceration before it begins.
ReMerge works for long-term rehabilitation, which, like TEEM, fosters a holistic approach to the care of participants. This means offering “housing, transportation, medical and behavioral health care, domestic violence intervention and counseling, education training and job placement, parenting and family services, legal services, life skills and more.”
Ministries such as these do not simply free people from the Oklahoma County Jail. Instead, they provide ways for individuals to recover, rehabilitate, and re-enter society as healthy and functioning individuals, which ends the vicious cycle of incarceration.