Program aims at reducing repeat offenders in Jefferson County’s jail

PORT HADLOCK — Of the 772 new bookings at the Jefferson County jail in the last fiscal year, almost three-quarters had a connection to drugs and alcohol.

Some were arrests for drug and alcohol crimes.

Others were people under the influence when arrested, or who stated they had used alcohol and-or drugs prior to arrest.

Of those bookings, 67 percent were people who had been in the county jail at least once during the past three years.

And these statistics made Fran Joswick, chairwoman of the county’s Substance Abuse Advisory Board, angry.

“I was appalled that Jefferson County has such a high recidivism rate,” Joswick said, “when it is so easily prevented.”

Joswick is a retired social worker who designed and implemented programs in Hawaii that channeled people trapped in the backwater of poverty, crime and drug abuse into healthy lifestyles.

Under her guidance, the local Substance Abuse Advisory Board has launched a relapse prevention program in the Jefferson County jail to reach people at the point when it will help the most.

“We’re reaching them when they are sober,” said Pat Wiggins, an registered nurse who works with inmates. “You’re talking to a person.”

The goal of the program, which started in October, is to decrease the repeat-inmate rate at the jail by breaking the cycle of substance abuse and crime.

Collaborative effort

A collaborative effort with Ford Kessler, director of Safe Harbor, an outpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment center, it is being conducted at no cost to the county.

Kessler is donating the time of Safe Harbor counselors to lead the weekly group meetings.

Unlike other programs offered at the jail, the meetings have no connection to the corrections system, no effect on sentencing and do not qualify for “good time,” a procedure in which inmates get time off their sentences for good behavior.

“It’s not forced, it’s voluntary,” Wiggins said. “People are here because they want to be.”

Wiggins said a survey she conducted showed that the jail’s Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anony¬­mous meetings ¬­– held twice weekly for both men and women — were not viewed as helpful by the inmates younger than 40 years.

Relapse prevention, which younger inmates requested, consists of weekly group meetings, one for men and one for women.

According to Kessler, they are designed to help people recognize patterns of behavior and connect with support systems to help them change those patterns when they get out of jail.

“Relapse prevention focuses on the future, on hope,” Kessler said.

“The individuals themselves learn to recognize the signs of relapse.”

Ten-step program

The program is composed of 10 steps, the first being that the person is sober.

Then Wiggins, who works with inmates on substance abuse and mental health issues, interviews the person, compiling an “honest history” of substance abuse.

Some inmates tell her they have been in jail 20 to 30 times, she said, including stays in other counties. The average in the Jefferson County jail is about four times.

Jail Superintendent Steve Richmond confirms that the people who come through the system are regulars.

“We’re on a first-name basis with all of them,” he said.

In the past, the transitory nature of the jail population precluded success in dealing with addiction problems, Kessler said.

But relapse prevention is designed to give inmates the tools they need to break their addiction cycle even if they only attend one, hour-long meeting.

Early signs

There are already early signs of success, Kessler said.

Of the four women who came to the first session, three signed up for in-patient treatment. The fourth was released and went straight to Safe Harbor.

“She made contact immediately,” Kessler said.

“This is the goal, to keep them from making the same mistakes. When they walk out of here, they have some support group to go to.”

The men’s group has met three times, Kessler said, starting with six men.

The next week there were seven, then nine. Now, 11 men are signed up, Joswick said, with 12 the maximum, which means a second group may need to be formed.

Typically, many of the male inmates have children, Joswick said, but have been written off by their partners and feel like failures because they can’t support their families.

As a result, they have no place to live when they get out of jail, no job, no support system, no options.

Feeling hopeless, they turn to drugs and alcohol.

“Without this program, chances are when they get out, they will go right back,” Joswick said.

The relapse prevention program will continue for a year, in which time Joswick hopes that it will have an affect on the recidivism rate, even if it’s only to reduce it to 60 percent.

The beauty of the program is that it costs the county nothing, Joswick said, so can’t fail to save money.

“The cost of housing an inmate is $69.50 a day,” she said.

Pierce County is the only other county Kessler knows of that offers a similar substance abuse program at the jail.

Both Jefferson and Clallam counties impose a one-tenth of 1 percent tax to fund programs to address drug abuse and mental health issues.

Both counties approved the tax in 2006.

Kessler and Joswick are now working on developing a continuum of components needed when the person released from jail to break the crime-substance abuse cycle.

Through the local AA chapters, they hope to create a base of sponsors who will provide support, starting with picking people up and helping them find a place to live when they get out of jail.

Options for group housing also are being explored, Joswick said.

“What we are trying to do is build a coalition of agencies and people who have a real effect on one or more aspects of the social and economic travesty we have in Jefferson County,” Joswick said.

On Maui, Joswick ran “Ka Hale A Ke Ola,” meaning “House of Hope,” where she administered a two-year program designed to get people who were homeless or mentally ill off the street.

Between 75 and 80 percent needed some form of substance abuse treatment, Joswick said.

The program, which had an 11 percent recidivism rate of the nearly 500 people it served, also provided housing, three meals a day and assistance in completing high school and entering vocational school or community college to learn a trade.

“Amazingly,” Joswick said, “they became self-supporting.

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