In January 2018, as part of the response to recent legislation in Mississippi, House Bill 585, which mandates that the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) provide benefits assistance to individuals preparing to be released from incarceration, MDOC applied for and received the SAMHSA SOAR Technical Assistance grant offered to criminal justice agencies.  On May 31, 2018, the SAMHSA SOAR Technical Assistance Center (SOAR TA Center) met with over 26 partners and staff from the MDOC at East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF) and participated in a strategic planning session for SOAR implementation. Frank Shaw, EMCF Warden, stated, “SOAR will be helpful to the mental health population upon release. We hope that allowing people to know what is available to them will be a start.”

EMCF is the pilot site for Mississippi’s SOAR implementation, which will be expanded across the state after the pilot period. EMCF is a men’s prison located in Meridian, Mississippi, about 90 miles east of the capital, Jackson. EMCF is tasked with providing a high level of care for up to 1,500 prisoners with serious mental illness at all custody levels. LaShetta Wilder, MDOC Director of Reentry and Pre-Release has worked closely with Petrice Adams, MDOC Reentry Special Projects Coordinator and SOAR Criminal Justice Lead, to establish a pre-release agreement with the Social Security Administration to begin Social Security disability applications using the SOAR model 120 days prior to release. In addition, LaShetta and Petrice used the skills they acquired from the SOAR Leadership Academy to coordinate and facilitate completion of the SOAR Online Course for their cohort of four counseling staff. All four cohort participants have completed the training and are eager to assist with applications. The EMCF SOAR team continues to work to include criteria in intake assessments that will help to identify appropriate SOAR applicants.

Under the oversight of the Management and Training Corporation, EMCF strives to be a leader in social impact by helping people who are incarcerated prepare to successfully re-enter society. Currently, the facility provides a wide variety of educational, vocational, substance abuse, and life-skills courses that help reduce recidivism. Through EMCF’s commitment to “offer effective rehabilitative opportunities with evidence based programming,” SOAR efforts continue to move forward in spite of the challenges related to the lack of funding to dedicate to SOAR.  The counseling staff identified to assist with SOAR applications see this as an “opportunity to really help the people we serve.” With the dedication of the staff and the support of management EMCF’s SOAR efforts are off to a great start.  The SAMHSA SOAR TA Center is hopeful for their outcomes and excited to continue to provide support and guidance along the way.