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RE-LINK focuses on improving health services after incarceration

Lara Hamdan
St. Louis Public Radio
Program manager of RE-LINK, Mikel Whittier, discussed the program's effort to help provide services for people re-entering their communities after time in jail.

Transition from jail back to the community can be a difficult process that often leads to repeat offenses and more jail time.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked about local efforts to improve the health outcomes for people re-entering their communities after time in jail. St. Louis Integrated Health Network’s Re-Entry Community Linkages (RE-LINK) program helps make the transition easier.

The health-based program helps 18 to 26-year-olds leaving city jails gain access to mental health, substance abuse and other wellness services. RE-LINK also networks with other health organizations to create a referral program people can use after they’re released.

“We’ve seen improved outcomes, we’ve seen improved access and we’ve also seen zero people return to jail thus far,” Mikel Whittier, program manager of RE-LINK, said.

Whittier said the year-old program focuses on health because quality of life and health outcomes are dictated by education, living wages, employment opportunities and other socio-economic factors.

He said when young people are released from jail, some often struggle with finding a livable wage and access to health services.

“Thinking about the trauma and toxic stress that jail presents if another issue within itself,” he said.

The federal office of minority health department of health and human services funds the RE-LINK program through a five-year grant, which structured the program to only serve 18 to 26-year-olds.This demographic commits the majority of crimes in the city and is deemed “impossible to deal with.”

“It just perpetuates hopelessness, which is all some people have — faith and hope,” Whittier said. “And if you take that away and strip that then, ‘what else do I have?’”

Whittier said the hope is to test the program on that demographic to see its effectiveness and then expand services to a wider demographic.

“The hope is to sustain this model, scale it out and have more community health workers helping more people,” he said.

The program seeks out people in jail but referrals also happen through word of mouth in the jails. For other services, RE-LINK then refers participants to programs and employment opportunities through organizations including Places for PeopleMission St. Louis and Center for Women in Transition.

“...whatever the case may be, to get them on a path of health and wellness and sustain that health and wellness,” Whittier said.

Listen below to Whittier talk about the RE-LINK program’s services and goals:


St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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