Drug and alcohol abuse underpins a variety of crimes. By some estimates, a half to two-thirds of all incarcerated people in the United States have some sort of substance abuse problem. So it makes perfect sense for the Department of Corrections to partner with the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services, which has received two years of grant funding to help prisoners get clean — both before and after their release — by training inmates to work as recovery coaches, or certified peer support specialists.
The promising program has already begun at the maximum-security Manning prison and is being expanded to the Allendale Correctional Institution as well as to other prisons, including the women’s prison in Columbia.
Prisons Director Bryan Stirling and DAODAS Director Sara Goldsby expect to have about 100 inmates trained and working with fellow prisoners by October 2020.
“We want to build an army of peer support specialists,” Mr. Stirling said. They will identify inmates with a history of substance abuse who are nearing the end of their sentences, help them formulate a plan to stay sober and coordinate post-release care. That can include further clinical treatment, counseling, or help finding a job or transitional housing.
Most peer support specialists, who undergo 46 hours of training to be certified, are in recovery themselves. The inmates earn work credits in prison and, upon release, have a new skill they can use to find a job. That head start can make the difference between staying free or ending up back behind bars.
The Corrections Department already operates clinical treatment centers at the women’s prison and the Turbeville prison, but Ms. Goldsby said the peer-to-peer approach is slightly different.
“Whether incarcerated or not, people are more apt to listen to someone who has a lived experience similar to them,” Ms. Goldsby said. “That’s where the engagement comes in.”
The grant funding also covers the cost of Vivitrol, a drug that blocks the pleasurable effects of opioids, alcohol and other drugs for up to 30 days and is given to program participants just before they are released. Each injection costs about $1,150.
Though the program is just in its infancy, about 450 inmates have been screened for eligibility, and about 65 inmates are receiving medically assisted treatment. DAODAS also helps those just released in finding jobs and transitional housing.
A new batch of 19 inmates are scheduled to begin peer-support training this month, Ms. Goldsby said. Additional sessions for trainees, including one for women, are scheduled in March, July and September. It’s an encouraging start.
Mr. Stirling also expects to hire a director of addiction recovery this year to continue and expand efforts to help prisoners beat drug and alcohol addiction, which plays a big role in recidivism.
The overarching goal is to help people whose lives have become unmanageable due to alcohol and drug abuse lead productive lives after leaving prison, and that’s something everyone, including lawmakers, should be interested in.