WV Division of Corrections treats inmate addiction to reduce rec - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

WV Division of Corrections treats inmate addiction to reduce recidivism

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West Virginia’s Division of Corrections is hoping to close the door to recidivism by helping inmates with drug problems break the grip of addiction.

 The state already opened two 28-bed units — one for men, the other for women — at Southwestern Regional Jail to accommodate inmates sentenced to DOC custody who are serving parts of those sentences in the separately run regional jail system.

Nine Residential Substance Abuse Treatment, or RSAT, units are already operating in DOC prison facilities, all with waiting lists.

“Our RSAT program is six months to one year, depending how the individual does,” said Lesley Hill, RSAT program manager. “They need at least six months to work through the program, and that’s if they’re doing everything right and don’t have any hiccups along the way.”

While RSAT isn’t cheap, the state ultimately expects to see savings through a reduction in recidivism.  

“The jail-based Residential Substance Abuse Treatment units enhance and complement Justice Reinvestment and its targeting of what drives criminal behavior and recidivism,” said Department of Military Affairs & Public Safety Secretary Joe Thornton. “Staff and participating inmates alike are very enthusiastic. I believe the inmates recognize that this will help them get back on the right path.”

The program addresses each person’s underlying issues, Hill said. 

“It’s not just about addiction, it’s about complete lifestyle restructuring — helping them figure out why they are using versus just giving them information about drug treatment,” she said. “RSAT is more of an awareness program; it promotes right-living versus an unhealthy, addictive and criminal lifestyle.”

Hill said RSAT helps participants understand things about themselves “they don’t even know — they’re that deeply ingrained.”

“All they know is ‘this is what mom’s done, this is what dad’s done,’” she said. “For them it’s normal to go to prison, normal to do drugs. A lot of times it’s their family that’s introduced them to drugs. A lot of times it’s the family business.

“One gentleman in RSAT, when he was 11 years old, he was told he wasn’t going to school. He was told to put on his (camouflage) pants and get out in the field and work on the family marijuana crops. (If that’s what you face) at 10 or 11 years old, what chance do you have? This program, really, makes them look inside themselves (at) what has brought you to where you are at now.”

The regional jail units have only been operating a couple of months, but the DOC unit has been in place “for every bit of 10 or 12 years,” Hill said. “Right now, we serve about 570 offenders at any given time.” 

“It’s absolutely making a difference,” she said. “We do see success stories. We have people who have graduated from the program who’ve gone on to get their college degree, their master’s degree and become substance abuse therapists themselves. I’ve run into several people on the street and they’ll come up and tell me their success stories.” 

Hill said before an offender is accepted, they do a risk assessment to determine if he or she is “at high risk of reoffending and doing drugs” if they’re released into the general population without first going through RSAT. “They have to consent to go into it,” she added. “They can choose to do it or not, but if they choose not to, it can affect their parole.” 

From the time they’re placed in the program, participants are secluded from the rest of the jail population.

“The majority of our offenders have some kind of substance abuse issue,” she said. “If it’s not too severe, we refer them to more educational type classes, cognitive behavior intervention, so even the ones who have a severe enough problem are getting some form of treatment.”

The goal, Hill said, “is to reduce recidivism and make our community a safer, better place to live.”

“Most of the offenders we have are going out into the community to be my neighbor and your neighbor, go to school events with all our kids,” Hill said. “It’s going to make our communities safer.

“Nobody wants to grow up to be a drug addict or inmate; I don’t think that’s their goal. It gives them hope they can change and can have a different life. At least we’re giving them the tools and making them aware.”

Hill said the positive results are palpable.

“When you walk into the housing units, there’s a positive feel. That’s something you don’t expect when you walk into a prison,” she said. “There’s laughter. ... It’s teaching them how to have fun without using drugs. It’s a great program; it’s beneficial to them and the staff working on it.” 

This story first appeared in the print edition of The State Journal. Click HERE to subscribe.

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