Local social workers aim to reduce recidivism in OT County

Substance abuse and mental health concerns for many in local communities have steadily increased over the last decade. These problems are exacerbated for those who are serving sentences in the Otter Tail County Jail. 

In an initial step to reduce recidivism, or reoffences, a social worker has been positioned in the jail to facilitate services for inmates returning to their communities.

Research has shown that poverty, substance abuse, lack of housing and employment increases an inmate’s chance of returning to jail. Barry Fitzgibbons, Otter Tail County Sheriff, wants this cycle to change. “Having a social worker housed within the facility allows for a connection with the inmate and provides help navigating services while in a safe and controlled environment. My vision is for inmates to capitalize on the resources available while in our jail and get the help they need to reduce recidivism and the number of people in our facility.”

Randi Resler, Licensed Addiction Counselor and Mental Health/Chemical Dependency Social Worker was hired through Otter Tail County Human Services and began working in the jail in November of 2021. There are approximately 28 other jail social workers in Minnesota. 

The primary responsibilities of her work are to connect those in jail with resources and needed referrals. For those who are receptive to working with a social worker, she shares connections to local and county social services as well as mental health and substance abuse service providers.  Most of the services offered to inmates are voluntary but some are court ordered such as substance abuse treatment.

“Having someone in a caring profession, such as social work, in a law enforcement setting may help them find the necessities they previously were lacking. The goal is for inmates to get on their feet so their likelihood of coming back to jail is less. We want them to do better when they leave than when they got here.”

Randi Resler, Licensed Addiction Counselor and Mental Health/Chemical Dependency Social Worker through Otter Tail County Human Services

Resler meets with inmates to assess their needs and works with a multidisciplinary team of professionals and service agencies to garner resources. During the day, she may help an individual attain a birth certificate and other form of identification needed for securing housing and employment; make a referral to the County Veterans Services Department; and/or identify appropriate providers of substance abuse or mental health treatment.

“This is important work. Randi has been a great asset to the jail, the inmates and staff. Being able to dedicate time for the inmates in a productive manner will yield many positive results and will result in the goal of lower recidivism,” said Fitzgibbons.