Five inmates at the Flagler County jail–a woman and four men–are the latest graduates of the jail’s addiction-recovery program, bringing the total number of graduates to 42 since it launched through a federal grant in February.
The program, known by its acronym–SMART–for Successful Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Treatment, is an evidence-based treatment program designed to help inmates successfully deal with mental health and substance abuse issues while at the jail and after their release. It gives inmate’s resources and a plan to re-build their life.
The counseling sessions are led by licensed behavioral health clinicians and certified peer support specialists from Epic Behavioral Health Inc. of St. Augustine. Epic has recently opened a new location in Bunnell to serve the graduates in aftercare.
The program is one of a series of new addiction-recovery initiatives that have emerged in Flagler County in the past year–some in the past months–all of them financed by federal grants and a stepped up focus on the opioid epidemic. Flagler County is among 10 Florida counties with the highest rate of overdose deaths.
The Sheriff’s Office started Smart earlier this year with a three-year, $1.3 million grant from the Justice Department, one of 86 agencies that shared $140 million for what it calls its “Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant, and Substance Abuse Site-based Program.” Agencies could get the funding either to start or to expand an existing program. The Sheriff’s Office had already started what amounted to Flagler County’s only in-patient medically-assisted treatment program for addicts, ironically at the jail since (at the time) the county didn’t offer that anywhere else. It was a reflection of Sheriff Rick Staly’s double-barreled approach to law enforcement: strict law enforcement with one hand, second chances with the other.
The jail, administered by Detention Services Chief Dan Engert, has since gotten some help in the community. Flagler Cares, the non-profit that focuses on social services for the neediest, was the recipient earlier this fall of a $1.3 million grant that mirrors many of the components of the Justice Department’s grant, applying them to individuals who have not necessarily had a run-in with law enforcement, but have addiction issues, or have overdosed. The grant originated with the federal Departrment of Health and human Services, and was channeled though the Flagler Department of Health.
State officials were in Flagler almost two weeks ago to highlight the effort (Staly and Engert were there as well), which replicates a pilot program launched in Palm Beach County two years ago. Flagler is one of 12 counties to get that grant. (See: “‘A Failed Model Ends Today,’ Recovery Pioneer Says in Flagler Launch of New Drug Treatment.”)
In yet another feature of the multi-pronged effort to reduce addiction in the county, Flagler Cares awarded a $200,000 grant to Flagler County Fire Rescue to develop a community paramedic team exclusively tasked with caring for addicts, and ensuring that, once they’re stabilized, they are handed over to other agencies for follow-up care.
At the jail since the program’s inception of the Smart program, 36 of the 42 graduates (86 percent) since February have stayed on the path to successful recovery, according to Staly.
“That is a tremendous success rate given that the national average for re-offending is as high as 80 percent to to 85 percent,” Staly noted.
According to a 2018 Department of Justice briefing, 83 percent of state prisoners released in 2005 were rearrested at least once, but over a nine-year period, with 44 percent rearrested in the first year after their release. That’s for all offenders, not just drug offenders. A 2010 study by the Federal Sentencing Commission, of drug offenders in the federal system, found that 48 percent of drug offenders were rearrested over eight years. But neither of those studies took account of the effects of drug-treatment programs on recidivism. When that’s taken into account, recidivism falls sharply, with equally pronounced cost-benefit advantages.
“Most of those who relapsed and went back to jail are now back on track and in successful recovery in the community as a result of the program’s aftercare and follow-up initiatives,” Staly said.
The five newest Smart graduates will work with the clinicians and specialists on a plan to transition back into the community before they are released from the Sheriff Perry Hall Inmate Detention Facility, as the Flagler jail is known, according to a Sheriff’s Office release. That plan will include regular follow-ups to ensure they continue to receive treatment once they’re out of jail.
“These kinds of inmates are precisely why we applied for the federal funding,” Staly said. “Many of the people who come in and out of the Green Roof Inn need a strong support system to break that cycle. Many of them truly do want to change their life but just don’t know how to ask for it or how to do it. Smart gives them a good path to follow along with tools and resources to understand the underlying issues that led them to the wrong side of the law. Every person whose life is turned around with Smart is someone who can be a productive member in our community and that benefits all of us.”
Only low-risk to medium-risk inmates may participate in the program. If they’re selected following a screening from medical and mental health professionals, the inmates are placed into individual and group counseling. They live in a pod inside the jail with other Smart inmates during the 90-day treatment program, something Engert says is vital to the inmates’ outcomes.
“Having them live together in a dedicated housing unit begins the process of peer-inspired living,” Engert said. “They live, eat and breathe recovery while they are together in the jail’s residential treatment area. A big part of a successful recovery path is maintaining connections with support groups and other individuals in recovery in the community, especially after they are released. Recovery cannot be a ‘do it by yourself’ thing because the odds of relapse increase dramatically in that case.”