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Adams County prison fights to tackle addictions

Written by Lillian Reed/Hanover Evening Sun | Jan 5, 2017 11:56 AM
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Recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict Aaron Latschar of Gettysburg says he is determined to not return to jail. (Photo: Clare Becker, The Evening Sun)

(Gettysburg) --  Aaron Latschar walked out of Adams County prison about two years ago. He won't feel comfortable until it's been three.

That's because people who return to jail within three years are considered recidivists, or repeat offenders, and Latschar is determined to not add to those statistics. Determination alone, however, is not likely to keep him on the outside.

Recent data shows that up to half the people who have stayed at Adams County prison are likely to return. Further, Latschar has struggled with alcoholism and cocaine addiction, and addiction is not typically cured by prison alone.

"If addiction could penalize itself away, it'd be gone," Latschar said.

To help people such as Latschar get out of jail and stay out, Adams County instituted several new approaches in 2016 designed to address the unique challenges of addiction.

Still, obstacles remain in the effort to slow the revolving door -- obstacles such as time, money and disagreements about which strategy is best for tackling Adams County's addiction problem.

Obstacles facing Adams County prison

The biggest misconception about addiction problems is that nothing is being done about them, said Brian Clark, warden at the Adams County Adult Correctional Facility.

Dan Boose, 34, lives in Gettysburg after serving time at the Adams County Adult Correctional Facility following multiple DUI convictions between 2010 and 2011. Boose found the rehabilitation resources at the facility lacking. Dan Rainville. The Evening Sun

"Sometimes the pace is faster than you can keep up," Clark said of the number of people developing drug problems. "But efforts are being made."

In 2016, the prison became a certified drug and alcohol intensive outpatient facility through the state's Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Programs. The addition signaled that the prison was shifting from a punitive strategy for addressing addiction to a rehabilitative one.

The county knew it had to address addiction issues. The prison's recidivism rates typically fall between 41 percent and 51 percent, Clark said. Pennsylvania's three-year recidivism rate was 59.5 percent in 2011, the most recent year data was available, according to the Department of Corrections.

Before the prison set up the outpatient center, the only drug treatment options for inmates were classes, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. But those were not true counseling services, Clark said.

Since introducing the outpatient services, the prison contracted two treatment staff members from Pyramid Healthcare. The specialists now meet with inmates dealing with addiction and thoughts of suicide within their first two weeks at the prison.

The treatment staff also starts benefits paperwork before an inmate is released so that all services and treatment options are in place by the time they are released, Clark said.

By October, about 90 inmates had been referred to inpatient treatment, and 81 inmates had gone through outpatient treatment in 2016, Clark said.

Still, the demand for treatment is high. The prison wants to address that demand by offering even more clinical services for inmates in the future.

To ensure people in treatment get the attention they deserve, Pyramid Healthcare caps sessions at 10 people, Clark said.

"As soon as the classes were opened for sign-ups, she was instantly booked up solid," he said.

The primary obstacle for providing more clinical treatment is funding, said Jim Martin, Adams County commissioner and chair of the prison board.

"We're caught up in fixing the roads and bridges but we need to fix people," Martin said.

The county manages the prison's budget, which in 2016 had about $12 million in expenditures. While that number seems astronomical to Martin, he believes the further investment means a prisoner is less likely to return, which could save the county money in the long run.

"If a treatment was too short-term, it's essentially wasted money," Martin said.

To expand the programming, Clark feels the prison must produce data that proves the current efforts are working. That kind of data collection takes time.

Debating the use of drug courts

Rusty Lang knows the drill. His phone rings, and he answers. Someone is about to be released from Adams County's prison and needs him to provide a ride.

Lang drops what he's doing and heads toward the sprawling complex, tucked between farm fields in rural Straban Township. If he doesn't show up, the former inmate, fresh off release, might have to walk home or to a treatment center.

There's often an urgency to his arrival. Lang has had passengers, who were only being held for 24 hours, go into withdrawal in his car on the way to a methadone clinic.

Lang estimates he's performed 200 to 300 of these transports as a volunteer with the Adams County chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society.

The Prison Society is a nonprofit organization that's been around since the 18th century. It advocates on behalf of people in prison and promotes humane corrections. In Adams County, that means visiting inmates, donating clothes and items such as reading glasses and helping them transition from incarceration to the outside world.

When it comes to heroin and other addiction issues in Adams County, the society's local chapter wants to connect those with addictions with services that work.

Members believe the most effective tool out there is a drug court.

Drug courts specialize in connecting treatment options with those in the criminal justice system who have alcohol and drug addictions. There are 16 counties across Pennsylvania, including York County, that use drug courts. Lebanon and York counties also have DUI courts, which specialize in alcohol addictions.

"Adams County is coming a long ways, but we are still punishment-oriented," said Joyce Shutt, an official visitor with the local society chapter. "The drug court perspective is a focus on treatment, not punishment. Someone comes in with a nonviolent drug and alcohol problem, they get treatment."

The problem, Shutt acknowledges, is that there's a significant expense in setting up a drug court.

"Adams County does not have the type of support systems for dealing with someone that deals with addiction," Shutt said. She lamented over the lack of halfway housing and inpatient facilities in the area, which Adams County would need to effectively develop a drug court infrastructure.

"I'm afraid the reality is that until (the county is) willing to bite the bullet and accept what it's going to cost, the epidemic is going to get worse," Shutt said.

Adams County President Judge Michael George does not agree that Adams County should have a drug court.

About 65 percent to 80 percent of those coming through the system have drug and alcohol issues, and the president judge has no doubt that addiction is a crushing problem, he said.

Still, a drug court would take away resources from other individuals in the system, he said.

George believes everyone should have equal access during sentencing to resources for drug and alcohol addiction. For example, people convicted of violent crimes can't go through a drug court, but their crimes still might stem from addiction issues, he said.

"When things get to court, we're putting pieces back together," George said. "We should be doing things in the community to keep people from falling apart."

For George, the smartest and most effective strategy for cutting down on addictions is early intervention and education.

"People need to know that heroin is not an experiment," he said. "Once you try it, you are chemically addicted."

The judges recently pushed prison officials to begin collecting more data on Adams County's court and prison system. If the numbers reflect that their strategies are working, it will be easier to justify investing further in those treatment programs, George said. If the data shows little signs of improvement, the county can make an informed decision to move in another direction.

Still, sound data takes years to generate.

"It's glacial in some ways," George said.

In the meantime, the judges are working with probation to get creative with sentencing by taking advantage of the programs the prison offers inside.

These days, judges factor counseling and addiction treatment into sentencing. Inmates serve minimum sentences if they've completed addictions treatments and maximum sentences if they have not, George said.

"People think of sentencing as punitive, but it's not always aimed at punishing," George said. "It's aimed at protecting (people) from themselves."

For Dan Boose, addiction was intimate and, in 2011, Adams County prison's one-size-fits-all treatment programs did not work for him.

"It's a lifelong experience," Boose said. "It's an emotion. It's memories trapped. It's bigger than just you smoke crack or you drink alcohol. It's all of the things that lead to that affliction."

The outpatient treatment facility didn't exist at the time, and the 34-year-old Gettysburg native, on his third DUI conviction was told to complete the prison's drug and alcohol program during his sentence. But the program was generic at best, he said.

Generally, those enrolled must attend a certain number of group sessions led by drug and alcohol counselors before "graduating" from the program. For Boose, it was 12 sessions. Sometimes sessions were spent talking. Other times it meant watching movies to pass the time.

Others in the program were put in a 12-step program. That didn't work for Boose, who didn't share the submission to a higher power that the program calls for.

These plans looks good on paper, he said, but in the end are blanket solutions that fail to tackle the root of addiction.

In the end, Boose found counseling and chemical dependency treatments far more useful in understanding what was happening in his brain that made it difficult to step away from his addiction.

Boose did have some kind words to say about facets of the Adams County facility. He knows that some things have changed at the prison since he served time -- namely, the addition of the outpatient treatment facility.

Still, he thinks the prison's best strategy for combating addiction should come from the staff.

"You don't provide a friendly environment for someone who committed a crime, I get that," Boose said. "It's not cookies and flowers and smiles, it's jail. But the environment was just way too tense and on edge."

Specifically, he hopes there will be an increase in the number of certified counselors who are able to give individualized help to the inmates. Some of those hopes may not be far away.

The Adams County commissioners voted Dec. 28 to renew the prison's $1.4 million annual contract, for a period of five years, with the private medical service that provides addiction treatments to inmates.

The county is also constructing a new human services building, which is being designed to give more comprehensive attention to those in the criminal justice system. The first phase of the building construction is expected to be complete mid-January.

This article is part of a partnership between WITF and the Hanover Evening Sun.

 

Published in Adams County, News

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