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County’s jail programmer named programmer of the year

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County Jail Program Coordinator Ryan Como attributes his recognition as jail programmer of the year to a collaborative effort between all Nobles County jail staff.

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Nobles County Jail Programmer Ryan Como (center) accepts his award after being named Minnesota Jail Programmer of the Year by the Minnesota Sheriff's Association Sept. 14 at the MSA Jail Administrator's Conference in Brainerd. Also pictured are Nolbes County Jail Sgt. Dan Bosman, Chief Deputy Chris Dybevik, Como, Jail Administrator Monette Berkevich, Jail Sgt. Aaron Ahlers and Jail Sgt. Adam Bohrer. (Special to The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Nobles County Jail Program Coordinator Ryan Como attributes his recognition as jail programmer of the year to a collaborative effort between all Nobles County jail staff.

Como was named jail programmer of the year by the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association during the Sept. 14 MSA Jail Administrator’s Conference in Brainerd.

“I do feel this represents Nobles County jail as a whole, moreso than the work that I’m personally doing,” Como said. “We are a big team here … that’s how it works around here and really what makes this place tick, I think.”

Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening said he nominated Como for the award because, as a longtime jail employee, Como understands the needs and does a diligent job fulfilling them.

“When the previous jail programmer retired and Ryan took over, he stepped in and knew what needed to be done and did it,” Wilkening said. “He does a very good job for the county, making sure that all the inmates have their programming.”

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And he’s doing so in a cost-effective manner that complies with 100 percent state standards, said Nobles County Chief Deputy Chris Dybevick, citing the findings of a recent jail inspection by the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

Since March 2014, Como has managed the jail’s various programs, which include school, church, bible study, AA, positive parenting, anger management, recreation, library, yoga, bingo, visitation and treatment programs.

Como said he would not be able to provide the programs without dedicated volunteers.

Around 50 volunteers from within the community are approved to provide the various services at the jail. All volunteers must complete a background check and training, which Como also manages.

Como said these programs positively occupy inmates’ time, which is vital for the inmates, jail staff and community.

Inmate ability to participate in programs is not a given, but granted upon meeting certain criteria, such as demonstrating good behavior. That helps promote a happier, safer and quieter environment for inmates and corrections staff alike, Como said.

Another goal of the jail programs is to stimulate some positive outcomes in an inmate’s life that will hopefully transition beyond confinement and help them assimilate back into the community, Como said.   

“I think some people look at the programming when they hear it and say, ‘why are we wasting taxpayer’s money on providing services to criminals essentially - there’s better uses of times and funds,’” Como said. “But the exact reason we’re doing these programs is because these people are going to be living next door to you.”

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One of Como’s bigger undertakings also served as a basis for his nomination. According to Como’s nomination letter, prior to taking the reins as jail program coordinator, the jail was working toward implementing a jail treatment program, but had failed.

Como worked with New Beginnings, a provider of addiction treatment services, courts, probation, public defenders and local community services in order to provide inmates treatment while they are serving a sentence.

It has not come without challenges, but allowing inmates to complete, or at least begin, treatment before they’re released has been positive for those who take advantage of the opportunity.

Como said he believes many inmates have good intentions to complete a rehabilitation program upon release, but that’s usually not the reality, and all too soon they revert back to their old, chemical-dependent ways.

“There’s a recurring problem of chemical dependency that some of the people have, it’s like a revolving door here - they’re in and out and the underlying issue is usually chemical related one way or another,” he said.  “After completing that treatment program, they leave in a lot better place than when they entered our facility.”

Como also serves as a Nobles County representative of the Southwest Minnesota Cornerstone Drug Court and completes routine job checks on inmates qualified for work release.

A 1997 Worthington High School graduate, Como has been actively involved in criminal justice since 2004, when he was hired as a corrections officer. He transitioned to jail program coordinator in 2014.

Nobles County Jail Administrator Monette Berkevich said Como’s experience as a correctional officer is a benefit to his current role.

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“Coming as a correctional officer, he understands their needs as well,” Berkevich said.

Como said he enjoys his role.

“I think I was tired of seeing the same people come in with the same underlying problems,” he said. “In my new role now, I have a better opportunity to try to better help them.”

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