SAMHSA: Setting Inmates Up For Success Before They’re Released

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Transitioning back into the community after being incarcerated is incredibly difficult. Take it from me – I’ve been there.

After four years behind bars, I was released back into a world I had forgotten how to adapt to. And even though I was in a work release program the last year of my sentence – one where I could leave the facility during the day and go to work – it still didn’t make my adjustment back into the “real world” any easier once I got out.

Addressing an Urgent Need

The transition process remains one of the least developed services the corrections system provides inmates. However, some states are looking to change that, focusing their efforts on those who compose a large segment of the prison population: offenders with substance abuse and mental health disorders.

A new report, published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), offers examples of the progress some jurisdictions have made using what’s called an APIC (Assess, Plan, Identify, Coordinate) model. Under the APIC model, corrections officials take a more comprehensive, rehabilitative approach to those nearing release, which include:

  • Assessing a person’s clinical and social needs
  • Planning for the treatment and services required to address a person’s needs (both in custody and upon re-entry)
  • Identifying required community and correctional programs responsible for post-release services
  • Coordinating the transition plan to ensure implementation

Finding Success With a New Strategy

Municipalities have taken a number of approaches under this model, and the SAMHSA guide describes a few that have seen success. For example, the Gwinnett County Jail identifies housing, education, and employment needs, as well as treatment-related requirements.

Meanwhile in Montgomery County, any behavioral health issue identified by healthcare and corrections screeners gets an immediate referral to a team of onsite therapists for a comprehensive assessment.

In Hampden County, meetings with a state-employed peer mentor are scheduled once an individual’s release date approaches. This mentor is responsible for introducing the inmate to services available through community organizations in the western Massachusetts region, transporting him or her to appointments, and encouraging compliance with treatment plans. The county has also become an active proponent of medication-assisted treatment; inmates are screened before release and receive their first monthly injection of naltrexone before leaving custody.

“The missing piece at the beginning was making sure that the individuals were also getting counseling,” said Peter Babineau, a substance abuse educator with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department. “We now make sure that those receiving Vivitrol are assigned to a counseling agency.”

Locating Additional Assistance Is Still Necessary

Two big components of an effective transition are finding gainful employment and a place to live, both of which are easier said than done if you have a criminal history. However, that’s not all that’s needed. An inmate’s emotional needs also have to be met; counseling, introductions to community organizations, and peer-mentor assignments are all great ways to help people get a foot back into the community.

The SAMHSA guide, then, takes a more comprehensive stance on transitioning offenders by providing programs and services while they’re both incarcerated and released. Given our nation’s incredibly high recidivism rate, this certainly seems like a necessary step if we want to people a fighting chance upon returning back to society.

What do you think? Will intensive programs and services help recovering people who are leaving prison or jail and returning home? Should our nation invest more money in transitional programs? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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