Inmate re-entry efforts gaining momentum; Recovery home ‘open house’ today in Milford

Chris and Tammy Cotton stand behind a book cart they use in the Kosciusko County Jail to provide inmates with reading material. It's one of numerous services provided by the Cottons who started the group known as LITE -- Living In Transirtion Effectively. News Now Warsaw photo by Dan Spalding.
By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw

WARSAW — While JCAP, the chemical addiction program in Kosciusko County’s jail, has received lots of attention in recent years, there’s another jail program that’s making waves and approaching two big milestones.

The program is known as LITE – Living in Transition Effectively – which was started three years ago by Chris and Tammy Cotton after they saw up close through a family member the lack of services available to inmates who are preparing to re-enter society.

What they learned was that many who have been incarcerated walk out of the jail and face the daunting challenges of employment, transportation, staying sober — and for many —  trying to figure out whatever became of their Social Security Card, driver’s license or birth certificate.

Without those basic documents, former inmates often struggle to find housing, insurance, a driver’s license and a job.

Providing help in obtaining those documents can go a long way toward ensuring they get back on their feet and don’t end up back in jail.

Inside the jail, they’ve built up a library service that began a few years ago with three dozen books and now has more than 4,000 available to inmates. They also acquired a cart that can be pushed around to different cell blocks.

LITE also oversees several types of classes with inmates who want to participate.

On top of that, they’ve amassed a volunteer network of 80 people who provide support and often, transportation.

The group is also establishing the Recovery Cafe in Milford where former inmates and others can gather, find support and share resources.

Another aspect is the LITE House Recovery Home, a residence at 208 W. Catherine St., in Milford that opened earlier this month and will provide a transition for women who are no longer incarcerated.

On Saturday, the group and other supporters will host an open house for the recovery home from 2 to 4 p.m.

On top of that, it appears many of LITE’s efforts could soon be formally embraced by Kosciusko County as the state is poised to expand a pilot program – Integrated Recovery and Correctional Support — in Kosciusko County this summer.

The state program began last year in five counties and officials believe Kosciusko County is in a good position to be one of the next counties to receive state support – including upward of $500,000 in state funding that will include paid positions and training for peer-to-peer coaches.

IRACS began in Dearborn County in Southeast Indiana where officials say they’ve seen a reduction in recidivism.

Sheriff Jim Smith appreciates the service the Cottons are providing.

“When you talk to the inmates, they have nothing but good things to say about the LITE program, whether it be the book cart or the creative writing (class),” Smith said. 

“What LITE is trying to achieve — and what IRACS will eventually do — is try to change that cycle a little bit and start giving these resources to these inmates as they do re-enter society.”

The Cottons both said find satisfaction in helping develop a program that has simultaneously mirrors work that’s been embraced by the state. 

“It is satisfying but there is so much work and it is never-ending,” Cotton said. “But we’re so glad that our county is getting behind this.”