The staff for a program that helps state prisoners at the Boyle County Detention Center kick drug and alcohol addiction got word last week that it is now on similar footing with some of the best known rehabilitation facilities in the world.
The jail's Substance Abuse Program received licensure from the state's Office of the Inspector General, which allows for a range of other counseling services and puts the facility in good position to continue receiving the full number of inmates allowed.
SAP director Jared Thomas said the distinction makes Boyle’s program one of only a few state jails with the OIG seal of approval. In addition to rehabilitation for substance abuse, it can now offer everything from parenting training to anger management classes.
The good news came sooner than Thomas could have hoped. What had been part of his two- to three-year plan has been accomplished with rave reviews almost a year to the day from when he took over.
"What this gives you is credibility," said Thomas, who said he was moved to tears by the news the program had taken such a big step so soon. "This makes us like a Hazelden (a world-renowned treatment center) as far as things we can do. It was always a goal when we started, but it happened a lot quicker than we thought."
Thomas, an employee for WestCare, which operates rehab centers throughout the state and country, said the program first went through an audit by the Kentucky Department of Corrections before it could even be considered for official licensure.
OIG staff are notoriously thorough and Jailer Barry Harmon said it is not uncommon for them to find a number of deficiencies and return multiple times before granting certification. After visiting the SAP at the detention center for the first time, Thomas said they found no deficiencies and remarked on the value of the services inmates receive.
Some of what stood out, Thomas said, were individual treatment plans that include frequent one-on-one sessions and meticulous tracking of inmate progress toward specific goals, as well as rigorous preparation for re-entry into society once the program has been completed.
While the results came faster than expected, Thomas said getting to the point where the program is considered a model was not a foregone conclusion.
Thomas, who now works with Laura Shwarz and Joe Singleton in the 40-inmate SAP, found no shortage of things to correct when he came on board. Treatment plans were lacking or non-existent and the filing system made it difficult to tell what someone was addicted to.
"Those first three months I honestly had my doubts," Thomas said. "But we really hit our stride and things have taken off."
So far recidivism during Thomas' tenure has been remarkable for being unremarkable. He said there have been no re-arrests of people who have come through the program during his year and only one warrant has been issued to date.
The program is not just geared toward keeping people out of the prison system, though, and Thomas said gauging how many people keep working their programs of sobriety is more tricky. Based largely on direct communication and other methods, he said he believes 50-60 percent have stayed sober since leaving.
Recognizing that it isn't just temptations, but a myriad of other daunting problems of all sizes that make it difficult for many to stay on the path set out in the program, the Boyle SAP places a heavy emphasis on support once people leave jail.
Thomas has every inmate list their five immediate problems on the outside, whether it be an impending divorce or a large debt, and makes plans for how they will address the issue.
"If you owe $30,000 we can't just handle that right away," Thomas said. "But we can get someone on the phone for them and work out a way they can start paying $10 or some amount per week once they are on their feet."
Thomas, a recovering addict himself who completed a rehab program as a diversion from prison, said during their preparation, inmates are given help with skills as simple as tying a tie and as complex as online job searches. Those in the SAP are all required to submit résumés geared toward three different kinds of jobs before they leave.
The staff also researches every barrier to success, some of which may seem small, but when combined with other challenges could be enough to derail someone trying to stay focused on the right things. If someone has a suspended license, arrangements are made to pay any outstanding fines to regain it, for example.
Another resource Thomas has tapped into since he started is halfway houses, where people have some monitoring and support for staying sober. Forty percent of SAP graduates now go to some kind of halfway house.
The success of the program so far has exceeded Harmon's expectations when he got the program started with locally hired personnel in early 2010.
"That was my dream starting out to be able to offer something like that for inmates who don't have the money to go to one of the big facilities for help," Harmon said. "I wish the legislature would look at what can be and put some more money behind it because it works."
Harmon and Thomas hope the state will increase the number of state inmates allotted to the jail to as many as 80. While it remains to be determined where the inmates from a recently closed program at Otter Creek Correctional Facility will be directed, both believe the OIG license and glowing review positions Boyle well.