United Way of Story County (UWSC) has been advancing the common good since 1953. In celebration of its anniversary, UWSC is taking a closer look at some of the partners who have provided much-needed programs to the community throughout the past 60 years. This month’s column features Center for Creative Justice (CCJ), a community-based, nonprofit agency that has provided adult probation services in Story County since 1974.
Johnie Hammond, who has lived in Ames for 60 years, helped start CCJ in the 1970s, and enjoys sharing the story. Back then, the organization United Campus Christian Ministry (a collaboration for student ministry that no longer exists) got pastors and members together who were interested in doing something for parolees returning from prison. The group wanted to see what ideas there were for helping arrested adults who were struggling with education, housing, employment and family issues. They planned a conference with speakers, discussed possibilities and, in the end, decided to form an organization to help. The original CCJ was in the UCCM office where the First National Bank near ISU’s campus is now. One-third of the clients remain students.
Hammond says CCJ started with volunteer probation officers, but learned very quickly that a paid staff member was needed to address the high number of individuals needing services. Therefore, they needed money. Several members of First Baptist Church in Ames (where Hammond is a member) were involved in the collaboration and helped write a grant to the American Baptist Convention. They were awarded a $7,500 grant and hired one staff member. Eventually, more paid staff replaced the volunteers at CCJ. Today, there are four probation officers, an executive director and an office manager.
Hammond remembers a fellow volunteer, Charlie Ricketts, observing, "You know, this probation work is just like having a rebellious teenage son. You have to teach them to pay their restitution and be ready to report to work."
Hammond retired from her second round on the board of directors a few years ago, but she still keeps track of the organization. CCJ has a special relationship with her church, which they rent space from, and she enjoys hearing Executive Director Mark Kubik address them once a year. She noted how proud she is of the data they keep now to show the success of the program.
Hammond encourages others to think about giving, advocating and volunteering a little differently.
"I’ve tried to give back to organizations where the clients are less socially acceptable," she says. "It might not be as easy, but those people are equally worthy of our care."
Kubik started as the probation services manager at CCJ and became the executive director in 2006. Before coming to CCJ 10 years ago, he worked for the Ankeny Police Department for 16 years as a patrol officer, detective, and sergeant.
Kubik says CCJ is very unique. "To the best of my knowledge, we are the oldest privatized probation agency in the nation. In recent years, our agency has grown to meet the needs of our courts and communities. In the past six years, our caseload has doubled, not due to a rise in crime, but due to the courts having confidence in our agency to provide effective services."
CCJ currently handles about 75 percent of the probation cases assigned in Story County. Historically, 85 percent of clients have successfully completed their probation, and more importantly, 88 percent have not re-offended. CCJ helps to reduce crime in the community, reduce victimization and lessen the burden on law enforcement, jails and courts.
In addition, Kubik stresses that CCJ is cost-effective. It costs approximately $30,000 to house an offender in a jail or prison, a cost paid entirely by taxpayers. Probation at CCJ can be completed for as little as $300, a cost paid by the probationer (1 percent the cost of incarceration).
Kubik’s expectation is that CCJ will remain an important part of the community’s criminal justice system.
To learn more about CCJ, visit www.creativejustice.org
Sara Wilson is marketing director for United Way of Story County, a strategic leader in building county-wide partnerships to identify needs and to develop, support, and evaluates effective human services for our diverse community.