It's a sad fact, but most jails and prisons have a ninety percent recidivism rate. That breaks down to mean that ninety percent of former prisoners become prisoners again at some point.

For some inmates, it becomes a reality that their current path is leading to significant prison time or death due to their substance use. If they are the guests of the Washburn County Jail, there are some new options. Currently, Washburn County inmates have their choice of multiple in-house programs to help them where they need help most. Programs dealing with their alcohol or drug addiction, their faith, their parenting, etc. All offered to help them transition back into the community. But there was gap in services when they stepped out the door and back into the community.

Over a year ago, a lunch conversation between Chief Deputy, Mike Richter, and Human Service Director, Jim LeDuc sparked the idea of how to help inmates make a successful transition, and stop the “revolving door” of jail stays.

A transition program was discussed but did not go beyond lunch at that time.

This past spring, the idea was again discussed and plans emerged to put together a team of professionals and community stakeholders to discuss the idea of a transition program. This group included representatives from the Washburn County Sheriff's Office, Washburn County Health and Human Services Department, the Justice Program, Department of Corrections as well as the jail chaplin program and the faith based community. The team gathered information from other counties in the region to learn about other programs and systems that could foster success.  The team felt strongly that the ability to offer a transitional living opportunity was important in Washburn County given the lack of homeless shelters or other safe, sober housing.  They began the process of finding a home that could offer sober living but also other opportunities for existing services in the community. The Transitions House officially accepted it’s first resident in October 2018.

Stephanie Villellla, the Justice Programs Coordinator is on the committee her job consists of managing several program as well as case management for Washburn County’s Drug and Alcohol Court.

Marie Schrankel, is the MH/AODA/APS Coordinator for Health & Human Services.

These are two of the committee members that helped in putting together a plan for an inmate after his jail-time is up. The goal is to start to work with an inmate prior to release and discuss planning for the moment they step out the door. This includes staying sober, looking for work and providing the support they need to start a new life with new goals in their own community.

You might say they are the ones bridging the gap by offering support, and now housing.

Through grants and funding, a three-bedroom house has been rented in Spooner to provide sober housing until the individuals can get on their feet. Health and Human Services staff have established office hours at the house and meet with residents to address progress on goals and future planning.

While at the new Transitions House, residents need to comply with established rules, and there are plenty: participation in the Comprehensive Community Services (CCS) program and/or drug court, no visitors, maintaining the home, and engage in the meeting held in the residence, as well as, looking for work.

So far, the team has worked with a few residents who have stayed a fairly short period of time, while others have needed continued support in their journey. The program is able to allow this flexibility to best serve the people in the program.

The house is not co-ed, but can house either men or women based on referrals. A future goal would be to offer a house for men and one for women.  Currently, the team is focused on building a strong program that fosters success for it’s residents.  

The committee is optimistic about the possibilities this house can provide to those who want to start living a new and better life.

Because the house and the program are brand new, there is a call out for supplies. This includes household items like cleaning supplies, laundry soap, toilet paper and paper towels are just some of the items still needed.

This committee helps residents find a position in Spooner's generous open- job market, and volunteer drivers are needed to transport residents to and from their jobs. A bike has been donated to the house for transportation, but is not always the most effective mode of transportation.

If you would like more information on this new Transitions House and how you can help, please feel free to contact either Marie at 715-468-4887 or by email, or Stephanie Villella at 715-468-4734, or by email

Diane is a features writer for She started her fifteen-year career as a features writer for the Washburn County Register and has written for assorted newspapers and national magazines. She has also just released the third novel in her Chicago series of books – Scott Free in Chinatown. You can visit Diane's website at or her facebook page at

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