Drug & Alcohol Commission wants additional counseling for jail inmates

May 19, 2016
Cheryl D. Andrews, executive director of Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission, hopes to hire a counselor to aid inmates before they are released from county jail. - Barbara S. Miller/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

In an effort to keep ex-cons on the straight and narrow, Washington County officials approved the addition of a 35-hour-per-week case manager to be hired by Washington Drug & Alcohol Commission Inc.

Cheryl D. Andrews, executive director of the drug and alcohol agency, said after a prison board meeting this week, “Number one, we need to treat the addiction issue. If they’re walking out the door, do they have an appointment?”

Her agency examined all 30 Washington County drug overdose deaths between August 2015 and January of this year and determined five of those individuals had been incarcerated. She did not know the length of time that elapsed between the inmates’ release and death, but she said another former inmate died of a drug overdose about a month ago, four days after his release.

“We will do a root-cause analysis of the past three years,” Andrews said.

Warden John Temas said he supports the move because of its potential to reduce recidivism. He added part of the counselor’s salary, $23,000, will be borne by the inmate welfare account from commissary sales and telephone usage, not county taxpayers. Washington School District directors will vote Monday on a request to provide an additional $10,000, to be reviewed annually, toward the position because the counselor also will be a “troubleshooter” for inmates under age 21 who are entitled to public education. Dr. Roberta DiLorenzo, Washington School District superintendent, said the district expects to make a transition from a teacher employed by the district to cyber-school enrollment for such students. Inmates’ home districts would bear the cost of educating jailed students.

Thirty-five to 40 days before an inmate’s release, the drug and alcohol agency’s counselor would examine his or her needs for housing, employment and transportation.

Andrews said the only direction many inmates receive prior to their release is to report to the county’s Adult Probation Office, and an impending release from jail involves a large amount of institutional paperwork the jail has to handle.

“There is a lot of legwork, and handling re-entry programs is a big effort,” Temas said, noting the prisoner population, including work-release inmates, just reached 400 for the first time this year.

“Internally, my staff’s doing everything they can,” he continued. “They’re overloaded.”

Andrews was a member of U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton’s working group that studied how to improve prevention, treatment and recovery among opioid addicts, and one of its priorities is to develop and implement an overdose-prevention program for the incarcerated because of their risk for overdose once they are released.

Withdrawing from opioid addiction while in jail reduces an inmate’s tolerance but often intensifies drug cravings, Hickton’s group reported. “Too often, one of the first things a person does upon release is to use drugs,” the 2014 report stated.

County Commission Chairman Larry Maggi and Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan lauded the effort. Maggi is a former state trooper and county sheriff, and Irey Vaughan, who volunteers at the jail to prepare female inmates to re-enter society, lauded the addition of a counselor from the drug and alcohol commission. Commissioner Harlan Shober was absent.

“In the three years I’ve been going , every single woman has had an addiction issue,” Irey Vaughan said.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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