New drug treatment program starting in Brown County Jail

Nearly 90 percent of the inmates currently in the Brown County jail are battling addictions, Sheriff Scott Southerland estimates.

Beginning Aug. 1, more help will be available to the ones who want to kick their addiction when the Moral Reconation Therapy program starts.

MRT therapy seeks to decrease recidivism — the tendency a person convicted of a crime to commit another crime — among juveniles and adults by increasing moral reasoning, the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections reports.

The MRT workbook is structured around 16 steps that focus on seven basic issues, such as assessing current relationships, reinforcing positive behavior and habits, and enhancing a person’s self-concept.

The sheriff’s department received a $15,000 grant from the Department of Corrections to fund the program.

To qualify, inmates must have been convicted of a felony and be serving a sentence of 90 days or more.

“This is not only ramping up some drug addiction counseling and opportunities for them in that area, but it also increases mental health treatment,” Southerland said.

“It’s not the answer to everything, but it’s better than what we have.”

Right now, inmates have access to limited counseling and mental health services while they’re still in jail.

Southerland and Brown Circuit Judge Judith Stewart both say drug use is a factor of in much of the crime that takes place in the county.

“A high percentage of people in here, there is some nexus to drugs. If they’re not here because of the drug itself, they are here for another crime they committed trying to finance the purchase of the drug,” Southerland said.

“Almost always they want to stop. They can’t.”

Stewart hears the same thing from the bench, from first-time and from repeat offenders.

“What I hear often is people who say they do want to get clean and say they’ve been trying. It’s certainly not uncommon at all,” she said.

When she sees the same people coming back to court with new charges, Stewart said the feeling she gets is frustration.

But, “I’m not frustrated with them,” she says.

What she feels is “a sense of lost potential, and a desire to try to figure out something that will allow them to not only get on the right track, but stay on it.”

Window of opportunity

Serving time in jail is a “window of opportunity” for treatment, since, in jail, inmates are not using drugs, Stewart said.

“While they’re here, while they’ve had a chance to let the drug work out of their system, they’re thinking more normal like they did before. The opportunity is prime to try to get them thinking in some other direction,” Southerland said.

He said some inmates could bond out of jail, but they choose to stay there to remain clean.

When Southerland started thinking about starting a treatment program in jail, he asked the inmates’ opinions on what would work for them. The next day he received multiple handwritten letters — some four pages long — from inmates offering their suggestions.

They asked for programs with steps that include sponsors, fellowship, and lessons on how to identify and change their thought processes.

“We can’t be alone. We have to have sober people in our lives that we can trust. We have to want to change or nothing is going to work,” one inmate wrote.

Southerland said candidates for the program will be picked who truly want to get sober.

“Whatever they’re doing here, it’s going to be kind of a privilege, an elite thing for them to be able to do it,” he said. “They have to be serious about it.”

Treatment plans

Brown County already contracts with Quality Correctional Health Care to provide medical and mental health services to inmates.

Currently, inmates can get a half-hour to an hour of therapy every other week, and medications, jail commander Tony Sciscoe said earlier this year.

Inmates also have access to the START program, which is run by substance abuse counselor Carrie Foley. She visits with male and female inmates twice a week.

A doctor and nurses are also on call to provide additional help 24/7.

Under the MRT program, the doctor who visits weekly will have more hours to spend on mental health care. The doctor would evaluate inmates to make sure they are mentally and medically qualified for this program, but the court, jail staff and Community Corrections would decide which candidates enter.

When they are released from jail, participants will be able to transfer between this new treatment program and programs that Community Corrections provides, as sentences or participation requirements allow.

“If they are here and they complete steps one through four, then they go to another place that has this program in place, they can take off at number five; they can jump right in and continue with the program,” Southerland said.

The goal is to serve 50 to 60 inmates a year, according to Quality Correctional Health Care.

Continued support

Right now, Centerstone also works with inmates 30 days before they are released from jail to prepare them to re-enter society. That program is funded by Recovery Works through the federal government, and covers services for people without insurance or who are on Medicaid.

That program also will continue alongside MRT.

Inmates in the Centerstone program receive an evaluation and participate in a group meeting twice a week for two hours. There, they receive coaching on life skills such as problem solving, building social networks and developing other resources to help them recover and be successful outside of jail.

Follow-up appointments at Centerstone are set up soon after an inmate is released from jail, Southerland said.

“It’s not helpful for someone who is addicted and who is trying to beat an addiction to get released and not be able to see somebody for an extended period of time,” he said.

Stewart said continued support after a person is released from jail is important for sobriety. “Otherwise, it’s too easy to get back into the same group of people, the same bad habits and you get right back into the same criminal conduct,” she said.

Stewart said she can sentence people to continue a rehabilitation program if they are already enrolled in one. But if they are not, she can’t send someone a specific rehab or therapy program.

However, the vast majority of drug case sentences include probation, with a condition being that the person submits to a drug abuse and alcohol evaluation, then completes all recommended follow-up treatment, she said. That could include paying a $200 drug abuse prevention fee, plus other court costs. If the person doesn’t follow the court’s orders, that could be considered a probation violation, and the court can issue a warrant.

Stewart also can sentence someone to “purposeful incarceration,” serving time with the Indiana Department of Corrections. The DOC has created “therapeutic communities” focused largely on drug abuse treatment, and if offenders finish that program, the court could modify their sentences.

Not giving up

Drug use has impacted child abuse and neglect cases in Brown County, too. Stewart said case filings for 2016 were up by 200 percent compared to 2015.

“It’s hard to talk just about the criminal caseload aspect of it, because for so many of the folks, if they’re in jail, they’re also a parent. It affects that family,” she said.

“That was almost all due to methamphetamine and opiate addiction, so not only do you see it in the criminal justice side of it, but the impact that addiction has on the family is significant.”

Stewart said parents often say they are trying to quit drugs, and there are success stories there, too.

“You see people do it for their children,” she said.

“(It makes me feel) hopeful, because I know it’s been hard for them and they do it. It just restores your faith in why you want to make sure you try to pass sentences and programs that do help them, because sometimes, they want to do it.”

Southerland said he hopes this new program helps to prevent people from returning to jail. He said the recidivism rate will be used as a measuring stick.

“If it goes down a little bit, it’s worth it, because the cost to us to keep the revolving door going is a lot. While they’re out, they’re generally committing some kind of crime, even if it’s drug-related, and the cost to society is high on that,” he said.

Right now, “the ones that leave here clean and stay clean and go on with the rest of their lives and don’t sin again, it’s somewhere between zero percent to 1 percent.”

Despite those numbers, “I don’t think we can ever give up on them,” the sheriff said.

“They’re still human beings.”

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.