Program reclaims ex-offenders' lives Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Apr. 08, 2010 -- 12:00 AM
Among those celebrating the seventh anniversary of the Pathfinder Jail Diversion Program recently at the Bishop O’Connor Center in Madison are, above, from left: Bruce Nicholas, director of Hope Haven-Rebos United; Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk; Brian Cain, president of Catholic Charities; Gary Gorman, vice president of the Catholic Charities Board; and Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney. (Catholic Herald photo/Mary C. Uhler

MADISON -- Four ex-offenders spoke about their lives at a recent celebration marking the seventh anniversary of the Pathfinder Jail Diversion Program.

Their stories began with despair and failure, but they ended with hope and success.

James talked about being fired from his job, leaving him devastated and depressed. “I felt like a piece of trash,” he recalled.

He found “solace in the bottle,” drinking up to two liters of alcohol a day.

When he was arrested for his third OWI (operating a vehicle while intoxicated), he spent 100 days in jail.

A new lease on life

He was approached about enrolling in the Pathfinder program, which provides comprehensive, long-term treatment for adult offenders with alcohol and other drug problems. The program is a partnership of Hope Haven-Rebos United and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Madison.

James decided to accept the invitation to become involved in the Pathfinder program. He went on to earn a university degree and get a job. “The Pathfinder program has given me a new lease on life,” he said. “I am eternally grateful for this program.”

Tanya, William, and Laurie also talked about their success stories with the Pathfinder program. Tanya now serves as a substance abuse counselor. “I want to help other people,” she said. “We’re trying to keep people out of jail and get their life back.”

Seeking solutions

Pathfinder was created in 2003 by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who was seeking a solution for those who were repeatedly sentenced to jail because of alcohol and other drug abuse problems.

At that time, a study of the Dane County Jail showed that about one-third of all inmates had an alcohol or drug charge. In 2002, 52 percent of sentenced inmates had one or more OWI convictions.

Falk spearheaded the founding of the Pathfinder program with the goals of improving public safety, saving taxpayer dollars, and reclaiming individuals’ lives.

Dane County requested proposals for managing the new Pathfinder program and Catholic Charities/Hope Haven-Rebos United was chosen.

At the seventh anniversary celebration, Falk explained why she was especially motivated to find a solution to the problems back in 2003. “I grew up in an alcoholic family,” she said, noting that her father died at age 52 because of addiction problems.

She recalled that the Dane County Sheriff Gary Hamblin also realized back then that the criminal justice system wasn’t working. “We all rolled up our sleeves and found a better solution,” said Falk, mentioned that current Sheriff Dave Mahoney has continued to support the Pathfinder program.

Public-private partnership

Falk thanked Catholic Charities for “stepping up to the plate. “Thanks to them we have saved many lives,” she said.

There have been 156 “graduates” of the Pathfinder program so far, and many other people have been affected by it.

Falk presented Catholic Charities with a certificate expressing “enormous appreciation” for their courage and for saving many lives.

Gary Gorman, vice president of the Catholic Charities Board, accepted the award. He thanked Brian Cain, Catholic Charities president, and the agency’s staff for their work in this program.

Gorman also said Pathfinder is an example of a public and private partnership that has been “inspired to do good things.”

Bruce Nicholas, director of Hope Haven-Rebos United, in turn gave an award to Kathleen Falk to thank her for her role in founding the Pathfinder program.

Program fulfills goals

Nicholas said, “We’re here to celebrate the success of the program and the clients. Our success has depended on theirs; they’ve done the hard work.”

The program’s three-fold goal of reducing the number of offenders, increasing public safety, and turning lives around has been achieved, he said.

“It was a good vision. It produced good results. It’s an idea that really worked. Public safety has been improved. People have stayed out of jail, stayed sober, and found housing and jobs.”

A recent program review of those completing the program in 2007 found that 71 percent had not been charged with a new criminal offense within two years.

Of all successful “graduates” of the program, 94 percent leave with a stable job and all leave with stable housing in place. It is estimated that the Pathfinder program has saved more than $1.5 million in taxpayer dollars based on the number of days of jail beds saved.

For more information on the Pathfinder program, contact Hope Have-Rebos United at 608-441-3240 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or go to the Catholic Charities Web site at

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