When a convicted criminal decides to go straight, it's not an easy walk. Even when law enforcement tries to help.

But James Vasquez is giving it a try. After almost nine months in the Hopkins County Jail, the 40-year-old California native slept in his own apartment in Madisonville over the weekend thanks to a new work-release program being used locally for the first time.

"I think it's a wonderful program," Vasquez said Friday as he prepared for release. "It's really helped me a lot, and made my time go by a lot quicker."

But SCORE, or the Second Chance Offender Re-entry Program, hasn't been easy for the jail staff to implement.

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"We've been using this as a test run, figuring out all the problems and issues," Hopkins County Jailer Mike Lewis said. "We've had to make new policies and procedures, and write this as we went."

Jail Deputy Ashley Browning says the Kentucky Department of Corrections developed SCORE for the most non-violent offenders two years ago.

"They have minimal charges that they are serving," she said.

After watching two other counties give it a try, Lewis became the third by starting a partnership with the city of Madisonville in April. Vasquez has been working for the city in manual labor jobs, such as concrete and asphalt preparation.

As of Monday, Lewis said Hopkins County had 17 active participants in the program.

"They have the ability to keep their job once they leave here, but they don't have to," Browning said.

But part of Vasquez's challenge was that he had to stay in approved housing, under mandatory supervision.

"We don't have halfway houses. We don't have transitional housing," Browning said.

So Browning began searching for local developments that might bend their rules, such as a lengthy ban on convicted felons. The manager of Hidden Hills Apartments on McCoy Avenue showed compassion for Vasquez and for the work the jail staff was doing.

"She understood a lot of what we were going through," Browning said. "They decided that they would like to help."

Lewis noted Dawson Manor is cooperating with housing as well, while Independence Bank has set up checking accounts for inmates to accept direct deposits from the city. The jail provides guidance for inmates along those lines.

"I've had guys who didn't know how to write a check registry. They never had to," Browning said.

She said Vasquez is using money earned through his job to make the required utility and apartment deposits to help facilitate the move.

Vasquez called Mayfield home when he was arrested for third degree burglary and second degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.

"I just got myself in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

Vasquez agreed to change his residence to Madisonville to keep his job. That made him the first Hopkins County inmate to go through SCORE from beginning to end. The jail staff hopes he'll be one of many who bring down the repeat offender rate.

"We wait and pray for a full circle," Browning said. "They get out and they have nothing. So they go back to what's easy. They go back to the streets, because they have nothing else."

Lewis found in helping Vasquez, what's true for an inmate can be true for a new jail program.

"Second chances are not easy," Lewis said. "You've got to help people if they're going to succeed."

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