First-ever financial training at ComCor in Colorado Springs intended to reduce recidivism

Eleven women of varying ages sit on chairs positioned in a horseshoe, clutching handouts and responding to questions from the instructor. The task: Discern whether a purchase is an impulse or a habit, something they do or do not need, an expenditure they can or cannot control. “What was the last item you bought that was $5?” case manager Noah Ruybal asked the group.

Most likely a drink or food, some said.


Cigarettes for many. It’s a habit, and “You don’t want to run out,” noted one woman.

What about $100?

“What?” one woman yelled out. “Oh, Lord,” mumbled another.

“Usually at $100, people put ‘substance,’ meaning drugs, said Ruybal, who’s teaching a first-ever financial literacy course at ComCor Inc. in Colorado Springs.

The private, nonprofit diversion program provides residential treatment, counseling, employment assistance and lessons in personal improvement for criminal offenders exiting the state’s correctional system. To come up with the $100 in the example, many clients would ask someone if they could borrow money and probably couldn’t pay it back, Ruybal said. The wave of debt to others and society grows when people are sent to ComCor’s intensive residential treatment program, which includes the women in the finance class. They’re transitioning from living behind bars to reintegrating back into society, are there as a condition of probation, or have been assigned to ComCor instead of incarceration. Under the 90-day program, they must remain sober while they receive therapy for their addictions. They can’t work, so rent and other obligations can add up, Ruybal said.

“One of my clients said she’s never really thought about finances before,” he said. “Now that she’s going to be entering the world sober, she’s learning how to budget.”

The program, created by Eastern Colorado Bank headquartered in Cheyenne Wells, is part of a new direction for the halfway house. A rebranding initiative launched last month, said Jeanie Vigil, client program manager, under Executive Director Mark Wester’s vision to “build community corrections into something more than your sentence.” That means providing clients with a life-changing experience for the better, Vigil said.

“They are revamping a lot of things, and you get out of it what you put into it,” Truitt said. “It’s obvious the staff now genuinely care about us.”

Truitt thinks the financial class will be beneficial. She hopes to reenter the housekeeping field after completing the three-month intensive program and moving into the regular section of ComCor for five months, which requires employment. “If you have a basic understanding of these life skills, it can help you feel like your only answer is not to turn to your street knowledge,” she said. “This takes a lot of intimidation out of it, and people realize they’re more capable than they think.”

New training like financial literacy, and another course based on the book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” are intended to “meet clients were they’re at” and develop useful skills, Vigil said. The women are learning how their relationship with money can be less adversarial, as they plan to legitimately earn a living. “The goal is they’ll start feeling like they’re in control of their future,” Vigil said. The new classes also are intended to decrease repeat offenses, said Shannon Chase, chair of the ComCor board and vice president of funding for Eastern Colorado Bank, which developed the interactive course specifically for the correctional population. “Most crime is generated in the hope of gaining monetarily,” Chase said,” so we are hopeful this can be a key part in reducing recidivism.”

Colorado has roughly a 50% recidivism rate over the course of two years following a community-corrections placement, Wester said, adding that his facility’s rate is consistent with the state average. “We continually strive for improved outcomes for our clients and believe that better financial literacy will be part of better outcomes,” Wester said. Money is scary to a lot of people, said Derek Freitag, vice president of Eastern Colorado Bank. “It’s not taught in standard education,” he said. “Most of us become adults without ever understanding it.” In-house surveys show that learning about money is one of the top requests of ComCor clients, Chase said.

Brook Schultz, charged with drug possession, came to ComCor instead of moving to prison after jail. “This class is giving us a good opportunity to do better and be a productive member of society,” she said, adding that she’s never had a bank account and didn’t know anything about credit scores. Positive urine tests turned a two-year probation period into almost seven years for Ricci Hays, 38. “Finances is something that comes when you’re living right, and when you’re not living right, it’s not something you even consider,” she said. “I’ve had jobs but have always just blown my money. They address what’s wrong and how to fix it, to set realistic, attainable goals so it doesn’t seem overwhelming.”

ComCor plans to roll out the finance program to all 248 residential clients in the future, Vigil said. “It gives them a sense of self-worth that they’re taking accountability for finances,” she said. “A lot of them have never even saved $5. They have that instant-gratification mindset.”

Article Source: The Gazette