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Strategy: Substance Abuse Counseling in Correctional Facilities

Strategy Mental health care professionals can provide substance abuse counseling in correctional facilities. This helps reduce mental health disturbances . . .


Mental health care professionals can provide substance abuse counseling in correctional facilities.  This helps reduce mental health disturbances in the facility and often gets to the root of why many of the inmates are there.

Community Problem Addressed

Substance abuse is one of the primary reasons that people commit crimes and find themselves in jail.  Addressing the problem and getting to the root causes of abuse can help reduce the recidivism rate among offenders.

Key Components

Certified substance abuse counselors from a mental health center visit the county jail on a regular basis to help inmates understand their substance abuse patterns and to help prepare them for a time when they are released from jail. Mental health counselors need to develop a good relationship with the local law enforcement and legal system.

Key Partnerships

This strategy requires a good working relationship among the local mental health care provider, the county sheriff's office, and correctional facility staff. Inmates participate on a volunteer basis and must be committed to the program.

Potential Obstacles

Funding can be an obstacle; however, there are grants available through federal and state substance abuse prevention agencies.  In some cases, agency administrators can pose a problem because of concerns about limited staff resources. A large problem is getting inmates to participate in the program. Successful drug abuse treatment requires a "baring of the soul." Successful adaptation to being in jail requires no baring of the soul. Some jurisdictions require that if a person is slotted to go into drug treatment after release from jail or in lieu of doing jail time, the abuser has to participate in the substance abuse program in the jail. This makes abusers attend, but it does not necessarily make them open to the treatment.

Examples of Success and Results

In 1994, Sheriff Rob Hendrick of Brown County, Kansas [population 10,000], recognized that many inmates had repeat arrests for crimes (e.g., shoplifting, larceny, theft, robbery) that could be attributed to substance abuse.  He sought out a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, and formed a partnership with KANZA Mental Health and Guidance Center, a county-based mental health center. With the help of the executive director of this substance abuse counseling agency, the sheriff started the Jail Counseling Program.

This program services the four local jails. It offers a simple program of recovery to inmates on a volunteer basis. A substance abuse counselor teaches approximately 50 inmates a year the skills needed to recover and abstain from alcohol and drug abuse, reducing the change of recidivism following their release.

This program has helped reduce the number of emergency mental health calls, such as suicides and emotional disturbances at the jail. Having completed this program looks favorably on inmates' records when they come up for parole.

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