Texas County-based Sweetwater Network Inc. provided eight copies of this book to the Texas County Jail.

A group of local citizens is focused on an effort to help reduce the number of jail inmates in Missouri who return to incarceration.

The Cabool-based “Sweetwater Network Inc.” stepped up that effort last week by donating eight copies of a publication called “Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System” to the Texas County Jail. Sweetwater Network executive director Rita Foster said it’s about providing much-needed education to curb “recidivism” (the tendency for a convicted criminal to reoffend).

“This will help inmates work on their cases and not be left in the dark so much,” Foster said. “We have a lot of persistent offenders who just keep going back, and the more we empower inmates, the more they’re going to take responsibility for their lives.”

Foster said the network currently has eight volunteers who act as mentors for willing offenders. Their goals include helping people “walk out” their probation periods, restore their credibility and hopefully “recreate” their futures.

“We have people who take clients to doctors’ appointments and probation appointments,” Foster said. “We’ll do whatever we can to help.”

Another issue, Foster said, is that Missouri ranks 49th in the nation in funding for public defenders.  

“The American Bar Association states that 300 more public defenders are needed in Missouri,” she said. “The public defenders are so overloaded they can show up minutes before court to meet their client for the first time and lose the case due to lack of research in providing their client proper representation.” 

Poverty in Texas County compounds the problem, Foster said.

“Texas County is the second poorest county in Missouri,” she said. “Many people who are presently incarcerated in the county jail are unable to afford a private attorney and can’t afford to pay the large bail bonds to be released and continue their lives with family and jobs while waiting for court.”

Foster pointed out that keeping people out of prison saves a lot of taxpayer money.

“It costs Missouri taxpayers around $21,000 per year to house a person and just under $2,000 to keep them here in the county on probation,” she said. “Helping people walk out their probation is a win-win for everyone.” 

Foster has been frequenting the Texas County Jail for ministry and counseling purposes since March 2015. She said Sweetwater Network is not a religious organization.

“But all of our volunteers walk in faith,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing this.”

The Criminal Law Handbook was published by Nolo (of Berkeley, Calif.), a firm that produces do-it-yourself legal books and software. The copies now available to Texas County inmates were purchased with funds provided by Raymondville United Methodist Church and pastor Maggie Erbe, who is on the network’s advisory team. Foster presented one to jail administrator Tim Garnica during a gathering last Thursday.

“Part of my job is to rehabilitate and educate people to help reduce the number of return offenders,” Garnica said. “At the end of the day, I want to do anything I can to make people not want to come back.”

Texas County Sheriff Scott Lindsey said his department has something in common with Foster and the Sweetwater Network.

“We all share the same goal of keeping people from making the same mistakes and hopefully not reoffend and be in our facility,” Lindsey said. “This is an opportunity for offenders to look at the laws and take responsibility for their actions.”

Sweetwater Network Inc. is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization launched last July. For more information or to arrange volunteering with the network, call Foster at 417-252-0829 or email rfoster.advocate@gmail.com.

The organization can be found online at www.sweetwaternetwork.org.

“Our communities pay a price when any member of that community fails,” Foster said. “Keep this work and this fragile beginning in your prayers.  Your children – the next generation – will benefit from what we do today.”

•Ranked eighth in the U.S. in incarceration rates.

•Ranked second in the U.S. in numbers of incarcerated women (45-percent sent for drug treatment).

•Nearly half of all first-time drug offenders are back in prison within three years of release.

•Recidivism rate is 85-percent, compared to a national average of 76.6-percent within five years of release.

•Ranked second in U.S. in drug use.

*Data provided by Sweetwater Network Inc.

“Our communities pay a price when any member of that community fails.”


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