Risky Business: Our Jailhouse Rocks!

Falmouth Prevention Partnership - Falmouth Prevention Partnership

In late April, the Falmouth Prevention Partnership and Gosnold sponsored a community forum to address the heroin and prescription pill abuse problem in Falmouth. A panel of local experts who are immersed in the issue discussed their roles and then answered questions and listened to comments and concerns voiced by community residents.

The panel included people representing substance abuse prevention, community-based treatment, and law enforcement. One of the panel participants was James Cummings, the Barnstable County sheriff, who briefly outlined some of the programs offered to prisoners with substance problems. The sheriff noted that more than 80 percent of inmates are in prison because of a crime related to a drug or alcohol problem. The greater the degree to which the correctional facility staff can help inmates deal with their substance abuse, the less likely the released inmates will be to commit crimes on Cape Cod, making our communities safer and saving the taxpayer money.

Why does society send someone to jail? Punishment, rehabilitation, deterrence and prevention are all valid reasons why a judge will choose to incarcerate someone who has violated the law. The philosophical pendulum swings from “lock them up and throw away the key” to one of “second chances” and a variety of well-intentioned programs.

Like most people, I find myself somewhere in the middle of the debate. Without question, there are certain people who need to and deserve to be incarcerated for very long periods of time; however, there are also those individuals who commit relatively minor crimes which are all too often related to a substance abuse problem.

At the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office, all incoming inmates are evaluated within a week of beginning their sentence. With this information a risk assessment and case management plan is developed. To combat the devastating impact of drug and alcohol addiction, the sheriff has established a Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program (RSAT) known as the “Shock Unit.”

This program is delivered in the context of a therapeutic community that utilizes a military-based lifestyle. The recidivism rate for graduates of RSAT is around 20 percent. This is half of the recidivism rate compared to inmates who were at the same risk level, but who did not participate in the program. Without a doubt, this program saves tax dollars as it helps people remain sober and makes them less likely to commit a new crime. 

While it is a treatment program, it surely serves as punishment as it is completed while in a locked housing unit for a minimum of six months. In addition to our RSAT program, our clinical staff provides a three-month program for repeat OUI offenders, specific programming for females, general substance abuse/re-entry groups for all inmates and a job readiness program. Community providers and volunteers provide domestic violence counseling for women, a fatherhood program for men, and counseling and re-entry support for the chronically homeless.
Our chaplain, who provides his own private funding, coordinates an extensive faith-based program that facilitates church services and religious study groups. 

Since Sheriff Cummings became sheriff, more than 400 inmates have earned their GED at the correctional facility. In partnership with Cape Cod Community College, the prison has added a six-month culinary arts program designed to provide real life job skills. Inmates also work in the community performing public service projects. Work and community service are important lessons to instill in inmates.

In addition, the prison has been selected by a pharmaceutical company to establish a pilot program for the use of Vivitrol to assist inmates with their recovery upon release. Vivitrol is an extended-release injectable suspension for opioid dependent and alcohol dependent individuals. Inmates are educated about medically assisted addiction treatment and are selected after an assessment process. Injections are given within a few days prior to release and are at no cost to the taxpayers.

Additionally, an appointment for continued treatment is made with community providers prior to the inmate’s release. The results thus far are promising. The Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office’s re-entry efforts have been successful at reducing recidivism. While it is difficult to measure the exact cause and effect of programs at the county level, the average daily inmate count has decreased from over 500 after opening the Barnstable County Correctional Facility in Bourne in 2004 to a current average count of less than 400 inmates. Today’s count is 366. Fewer returning inmates are the best measure of the sheriff’s re-entry efforts. 

A single-minded philosophy does not serve the community well. When done right, a well-run house of correction can serve all of society’s needs for punishment, rehabilitation, deterrence and prevention. 

Recommended Resource

The partnership’s website at www.falmouthprevention.org provides in-depth information about underage drinking and drug abuse.

Learn more about the programs at the Barnstable County Correctional Facility at www.bsheriff.net.

Learn more about Vivitrol at www.vivitrol.com. This site is managed by the drug company that sells Vivitrol, but has useful information for consumers about how the drug works.

(Jeff Perry is the Barnstable County Special Sheriff and a member of the Falmouth Prevention Partnership Steering Committee.)
 

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